Today we visited the first of (hopefully) many landmarks in Italy. Five of the girls in our apartment plus four of the boys downstairs all took a train to Pisa to enjoy the sites. I’ve heard many times that the only thing to see in Pisa is the tower. Listen to me: THAT IS NOT TRUE. We spent a lovely day traversing Pisa and enjoying the sites.
After a thrilling adventure literally running to catch the train, we spent a nice hour watching the scenery. Kip brought a guidebook that had a self-guided tour, so we used that to see all the sites. I am also using it to give you all the information I learned today.
Immediately outside the train station is the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. Long name for a tiny square, but it did have a nice grassy area and a mural by Keith Haring. Pisa is located on shifting delta sand, so the entire town leans. If you look at the buildings, especially ones with patterns, you can see a distinct lean in all of them. Pisa was founded in the sixth century BC when two parallel rivers were connected by canals. The town winds with the rivers, even though a landslide eventually rerouted the second river, destroying ancient Pisa.
Then we crossed the Ponte di Mezzo, which crosses over the Arno River and marks the center of Pisa. Like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, this bridge used to be lined with shops, but it’s been destroyed by floods and bombs over the years.
We walked along Borgo Stretto, saw Pisa’s historic market square closing up shop, and that’s when we got lost. We wandered around for a bit trying to figure out where we were, and then quit and just ate lunch instead.
We asked the cashier for directions and were on our way! From a distance we could see the tower, but we made a detour at the Piazza dei Cavalieri first. This used to be the seat of the Republic of Pisa’s government. When Florence conquered Pisa, it because the training place for the knights of its navy. There’s a statue of Cosimo I de’ Medici standing on a dolphin, reminding its viewers that Florence had control over the sea. And that they were very cruel to animals. Later these buildings became part of the University of Pisa, one of Europe’s oldest. It’s where Galileo Galilei studied the solar system.
And then…THE MAIN ATTRACTION. The Leaning Tower really is legitimately leaning. We joked about how it could’ve been this big controversy, and everyone who visits just photoshops their pictures for the benefit of the joke. But nope. It’s legit. The first stones were laid in 1173. Five years later, just as the base and the first floor were finished, somebody looked at the structure and said, “Does this look crooked to you?” They carried on anyways, but quit after four floors, and nobody knows why. For a century it sat there, falling over and unfinished.
The next architect tried to correct the issue by building the next three stories leaning the other way, but to no avail. A hundred years later a third architect finished the Tower. In 1990, $30 million was spent to try to stabilize it. So much time and money has been spent on this artifact, it deserves the attention it receives. We came at the perfect time, there were very little crowds, which gave us all the space we needed to take our stereotypical tourist pictures. Of course.
Next to the tower is the Duomo of Pisa, which in some places you can also see a lean.
Inside is a beautiful array of displays and murals and carvings, including a famous pulpit and the remains of St. Ranieri. He was a partying musician, who one night set fire to his instrument, opened his arms to the sky, then returned to his father’s shipping business, where he made a fortune, Then the gave away his money, joined a monastery, and now his body’s in the church he preached in.
There was also the Camposanto Cemetery, which is at least 900 years old. There used to be frescoes of the Old Testament covering the walls, but after WWII the cemetery was bombed, and the rescued (although still pretty destroyed) frescoes were moved into the nearby Museo delle Sinopie. All that’s left of most of them is the sketches the artists made in red paint before painting the rest. We enjoyed the cemetery a lot, mostly because we imitated the sculptures inside it.
After seeing the sights we made our way back to the train station. We stopped and got (what else?) gelato at Pisa’s best gelateria, La Bottega del Gelato.
Although our day was condensed down into this short blog post, we did spend a nice long time in Pisa. Next time you’re in Italy (which I hope is soon) make sure to stop by here! It’s a more relaxed Florence, and well worth the visit!