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Pisa, Italy: Leaning beauty
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Pisa is a city in Tuscany, on the right bank of the mouth of the River Arno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa. Although Pisa is known worldwide for its leaning tower (the bell tower of the city's cathedral), the city contains more than 20 other historic churches, several palaces and various bridges across the River Arno. Much of the city's architecture was financed from its history as one of the Italian maritime republics. The city is also known as University Town.
We drove from Florence to Pisa on a Sunday afternoon. The drive up to Pisa was quick, the problem was finding a parking spot! Weekends, especially during the holidays can be chaotic from a driverís perspective. Finally, after a long wait, I could find a spot at the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuelís basement parking.
The piazza is named after Vittorio Emmanuel II, a very popular figure, who was the King of Sardinia and a leader of the Italian unification movement in the late 19th century. In 1861 Vittorio Emmanuel became the first King of Italy since the sixth century. A statue of him is displayed prominently in the piazza. This piazza has been rebuilt after it was heavily damaged during World War 2. Walking around the piazza you can still see signs of damage along with old and newly constructed buildings.
Contrary to popular belief, the Piazza del Duomo is not in the city centre. The complex is about 3 kms. away. We began our walk, exploring the cobbled lanes and architecture (old & new) of this charming town. After a good walk, we saw the tip of the iconic leaning tower. Yes, we were in Pisa.
While the bell tower of the Cathedral, known as "the leaning Tower of Pisa", is the most famous image of the city, it is one of many works of art and architecture in the city's Piazza del Duomo, also known, since the 20th century, as Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), to the north of the old town center. The Piazza del Duomo houses the Duomo (the Cathedral), the Baptistry and the Campo Santo (the monumental cemetery). The medieval complex also includes the hospital and few palaces. All the complex is kept by the Opera (fabrica ecclesiae) della Primaziale Pisana, an old non-profit foundation that operates since the building of the Cathedral to the maintenance of the sacred buildings. The area is framed by medieval walls kept by municipality administration.
The Miracle Square took form in 1064 with the creation of the centerpiece of the entire complex: the Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. The cathedral symbolizes the maximum expression of Pisan Romanesque influenced at the same time by various stylistic elements: at the time, Pisa was a Maritime Republic, and sailors travelled around the Arab world and remained smitten by all the beautiful things they saw.
Emblem of Pisan Romanesque architecture, the cathedral was designed by the architect Buscheto in 1604 and shows, in its brightness, the influence of various styles and cultures: Byzantine but mostly Islamic components which testify of the power of the Maritime Republic of Pisa at that time. During the trips in North Africa and Middle East, Pisan sailors could admire the characteristics of the different worlds they visited and were deeply influenced by them.
Years later the enlargement of the fortified wall began (the church at the beginning wasnít inside the walls) and the building of the baptistry began only in 1152. The baptistry was located directly in front of the Cathedral with a diameter equal to the facade of the cathedral. About 20 years later, works also started on the bell tower, now known as the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa and in 1277 work stated on the graveyard.
The construction of the Tower of Pisa dates back to 1173. Its fame is owed to its inclination, caused by the shifting ground in the subsoil and for this reason works were often interrupted throughout its construction. In 1275, the tower was enlarged with the addition of three levels while the belfry was added only in 1350. The Leaning Tower is 55 meters high and is inclined 5į southward. One has to climb up 294 steps to reach the top. Each of the levels has galleries and arcades except for the last one, where there are 7 bells. The tower was closed from 1990 to 2001 because of instability but is once again open today to visitors.
The graveyard is an ancient monumental cemetery set on the north side of the Square of Miracles. Begun in 1277 by the architect Giovanni de Simone, it is a rectangular structure with an inner cloister with Gothic arcades. As ancient tradition would have it, the graveyard was built on dirt carried back from the Holy Land, in particular from the place where Jesus was crucified. Within the cloister youíll find many sarcophaguses and Roman graves, used exclusively for the burial of prestigious men, while beneath the floor are graves of the nobles of Pisa. One can admire a lot of artworks including: the Pulpit by Giovanni Pisano, the Lamp by Galileo Galilei, frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli and Buonamico Buffalmacco with the famous Triumph of Death, a tabernacle by the Della Robbia and many more.
At 6 PM we were done with our explorations. What better way to celebrate an evening in Pisa than enjoying pizza & pasta at one of the bistros that overlooked the leaning tower? At 8 we were in our car. It took us over an hour to hit the Autstrada. Bumper to bumper traffic for 8 kms. did try our patience. Jesus, had the entire world visited Pisa that day?
Anyway, it was 10 in the night by the time we reached our hotel. Tomorrow, we would be walking Florence.
Pisa Image Gallery Photo viewer
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