A MILLENARY JOURNEY THROUGH HISTORY
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, located on the border of the ancient defensive walls of the city, has an ancient history that testify the events of the city itself. Built on the remains of the temple of Diana and a Roman domus in 533 by the Bishop Pomponio, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it was one of the four major basilicas in the late ancient period. In the mid-1600s the Basilica was demolished due to damages caused by earthquakes and completely rebuilt in 1656 by Cosimo Fanzago.
The foundation of the church is linked to an ancient popular legend according to which the Devil, under the guise of a pig, infested the area between Piazza Miraglia and the ancient center, and grunting scared passers-by during the night hours. Pietrasanta was considered the center of this demonic activity.
To expel the evil from the site, Pomponius built the basilica, following a dream during which the Virgin ordered him to erect a church in the place where he would find a heavenly cloth. Under the cloth, the holy stone (pietra santa): a rock engraved with a cross, which would have been venerated by the worshippers over the years as a source of indulgence.
THE BELL TOWER
In Piazzetta Pietrasanta stands the brick tower of the ancient Basilica, a work of Roman tradition with Byzantine influences. Of square plan, on four levels, made entirely of bricks, it integrates ancient materials in the building. Personalities such as Michelangelo Schipa and Benedetto Croce considered the belfry to be contemporary to the church, but studies of the Venditti moved its construction to the IX – X century.
The Griffon, known since antiquity, is a fantastic animal, half a lion and a half eagle equipped, according to the beliefs, of supernatural strength and power, and counted among the classical mythology creatures.
The Griffon has very precise and delineated characteristics: it is formed by the body, the hind legs and the tail of a lion, combined with the head and the claws of an eagle, the latter acting as front legs. The animal represents the conflicting symbol of two natures: human and divine.
Built in 1492 by Giovanni Gioviano Pontano, the chapel, overlooking Piazzetta Pietrasanta and Via dei Tribunali, is completely covered in piperno gray stone.
Pontano, a brilliant humanist, had it erected as a funeral monument for his beloved wife Adriana Sassone. Inside, with the elegant Latin inscriptions written by the same, the sons Lucio, Francesco and Lucia Marzia were also deposed, together with his dear friend Pietro Golino. Of rectangular plan, with three external facades and a fourth one adjacent to the Chapel of the SS Savior, it stands out in the square for the elegance and charm of the finest relief details.
CHAPEL OF THE SS. SAVIOR
Between the Basilica and the Pontano Chapel , stands the Chapel of the SS. Savior, dated by the Ventre to 1150. This church of the Arciconfraternita del Cappuccio was initially an autonomous church. Its interior, remodeled in the eighteenth century, are enriched by a majolica floor, with fine decorations and the altar in polychrome marble. The exterior, with the piperno portal, houses on its right a niche, surmounted by a plaque dedicated to the reconstruction of the dome of Santa Maria Maggiore in 1820.
The underground floor and the dungeons of the church of S. Maria Maggiore represent a precious testimony of the city’s history. Going down, you can see roman pre-existing floors and walls, portions of opus reticulatum, tufo blocks, Roman mosaics, domus remains.
The undergrounds of the church constitute a series of tunnels belonging to the ancient Greco-Roman aqueduct, flowing into rainwater cisterns that allowed the ancients to distribute water to the entire city. These precious remains make the whole complex of Pietrasanta a real journey through history.