Andrea Vaccà Berlinghieri (1772-1826) planned this building, dedicated to Minerva Medica, goddess of Medicine and Wisdom, in memory of his father, Francesco (1732-1812). Both were famous physicians at the university in Pisa. Through their writings they spread new methods conceived by them for conducting operations and helped lay the basis of modern medicine, raising the prestige of university. The temple is devoted to Minerva Medica rather than Aesculapium, the god of Medicine. This dedication can be interpreted as a sign of the wider interests of Francesco Vaccà. He had also devoted much time to the study of philosophy. It was, therefore, the divinity Minerva Medica that, best of all, succeeded in representing the deep and complex personality of this great physician.

The design of the building was given to the architect and engineer Ridolfo Castinelli (1791-1859), who was at the beginning of his professional career. Subsequently, he would be occupied in public works such as roads, bridges, land reclamation etc. He was given more and more prestigious commissions, and eventually became the head of the Tyrrhenian engineering department.

Among the buildings he designed, the temple constitutes the best preserved one, displaying, thanks to an absence of succeeding changes which could have jeopardized the building’s structure and decoration, the taste and the sound principles that Castinelli possessed, carried through even in the temple’s smallest detail.

The temple is approached by a monumental avenue. It is built entirely in terracotta with the exception of the pediment's lintel, which is of white marble. Its composition is constituted by an oblong, comprising the parvis, the hallway and various rooms, and a rear semi-circular apse.The façade and the sides are placed on a wide platform fifteen metres wide and seven metres deep, which is accessed via a wide stairway in stone, on whose top rest eight mighty ionic columns, capped by great terracotta disks.

The entrance is in the centre of the cella wall. It is a large front door flanked by two medallions representing the owl with olive twig (symbol of the goddess), over which is placed the temple’s dedication. The whole structure is characterized by opus reticolatum and from a multitude of decorative elements, some in marble, some in chalk, and some in terracotta, which make this building a truly refined and elegant work of art. Inside the temple there is a hallway, separated from the main semicircular chamber by two Corinthian columns, which also sustain the upper small balcony, once used by musicians. Three large windows illuminate the ground floor.


Two side rooms open out from the hallway. The upper floor can be reached from the left room, via a stone staircase, some rooms are of uncertain function; one is dedicated to the orchestra. The largest room, situated in the central part, has a circular window. Continuing up the same staircase, we come to a small skylight that has replaced, at an unknown date, a balcony, from which the pleasant surrounding hills could be viewed all around.

The choice of the temple’s location was not accidental. Following the intentions of his father, Francesco, Andrea chose, as favourite place to raise this building, the area where his father in 1808 had planned the construction of a villa, which would eventually be built further south. This villa, finished shortly after the Temple’s completion was demolished in 1836 following the earthquake that struck part of the Pisan area.

from "il Tempio di Minerva Medica" by Fabio Lazzereschi - 2005 - CLD. Libri srl