The Camposanto, or "Holy Field," is not your typical cemetery. Distinguished on the outside by blind arcades with pilasters, it is a rectangular, colonnaded building with an inner, grassy courtyard. The building's height, length, and breadth are said to match that of Noah's ark. One early chronicler declared that "it was made near the Duomo at such great expense and with such magnificence, that for the burial of the dead I do not believe there is such a sumptuous fabric in all the world, or one so much admired by all who see it."
Legend holds that the Camposanto contains soil that the Crusaders brought back from the Holy Land in 50 galleys. The 16th-century French essayist Michel de Montaigne reported that "any corpse interred there swells so greatly some eight hours afterwards that the ground may be seen to rise, in the next eight it subsides, and in eight hours more it is entirely consumed, so that in four and twenty hours after the burial nothing is left but bare bones."
In medieval times, the sarcophagi of noted persons lined the ambulatory walls of the Camposanto, which also contains numerous frescoes. Notable among them are The Cultivation of the Vine and The Drunkenness of Noah, by the Renaissance artist Benozzo Gozzoli, and the 14th-century Triumph of Death, a disquieting image showing a female Death hovering over people of all stripes, which was created during a time when the Black Death ravaged Europe.