Pisa

Edifices extolling stunning architectural and design skills, attract attention, throughout Italy. Amongst them is one structure that has gained popularity because of its faulty engineering! – The Leaning Tower of Pisa!

But, the beautiful city of Pisa is also known for other noteworthy sites.  

The local economy enjoys a major contribution from Education since the 1400s. Students from all parts of Italy vie for a seat in its elite university. The town centre boasts of well-maintained Romanesque edifices, Gothic churches and Renaissance piazzas, well-balanced with a vibrant café and bar scene. If you restrict yourself to just visiting Piazza dei Miracoli, you may probably not realize the interesting fact that the town’s street life is dominated by locals more than tourists!

Coming by train from Florence? 
Many people come to Pisa from Florence to see the Leaning Tower. Travellers are recommended to take the time to explore the rest of the center which is really neat. Pisa has two train stations: Pisa Centrale and Pisa San Rossore.

Unless you are travelling from Lucca, a train that goes to Pisa Centrale is a better bet, as Pisa San Rossore is on a secondary line, though closer to the Leaning Tower. Buses ply between Pisa Centrale and the Leaning Tower frequently. They leave from outside the NH – Hotel Jolly dei Cavalieri, opposite the station. The centre is small, hence, those who love to walk can make it to the centre in less than 30 minutes.

What to see in Pisa?

The Leaning Tower

Torre Pendente is one of Italy’s moniker marvels. The famed Leaning Tower leans at an angle of 3.9 degrees and is 56m high. It is the official campanile (bell tower) of Duomo and took almost 200 years to build. It had already started its tilt when it was unveiled in 1372. The weak subsoil had caused the tilt, which worsened over time. It tilt was stopped and given support by a major stabilisation project in the 1990s.

The construction of the tower began in 1173 under architect Bonanno Pisano’s supervision. But he was forced to abandon work after the edifice started leaning. In 1272 the construction work resumed. Measures to bolster the foundations miserably failed in spite of the hard work put in by the artisans and masons. Yet, they kept building straight up from the lower storeys. Again, work was suspended due to war. The construction of the tower wasn’t completed until the second half of the 14th century.

The tower continued to tilt over the next 600 years, at an estimated 1mm / year. In 1993, it was 4.47m away from the vertical, which is more than 5 degrees. Steel braces were slung around the third storey, to counter this tilt, and joined to steel cables attached to adjacent buildings, which held the building in place as the engineers gradually removed the soil from below the northern foundations. 70 tonnes of earth was removed after which the tower sank to its 18th century level. This corrected the tilt by 43.8cm. This will guarantee the tower’s future for the next three centuries, believe the experts.

At a time, only 40 people are allowed inside the tower. Children under eight are not allowed inside and those in the age group of 8 to 10 should hold an adult’s hand. Advance online booking is recommended to avoid disappointment. Or else, a visit to the ticket office when you arrive at Pisa, to book a visit for later in the day. The climb up involves a 300-odd occasionally slippery steps. Your bags and handbags should be deposited at the free left-luggage desk near the central ticket office. Cameras are allowed up the tower.

Duomo

Construction of the magnificent Romanesque Duomo in Pisa began in 1064 and was consecrated in 1118. The green and cream marble band clad, tiered exterior, leads to a massive columned interior, with a gold wooden ceiling.

The cathedral was a blueprint for many other Romanesque churches built later, in Tuscany. In 1063, victory in a naval battle fought against an Arab fleet off Palermo, gave the Pisans enough spoils, which was used in the construction of the church. The cathedral was built to be Europe’s largest, to mark this victory and symbolise Pisa’s Mediterranean domination.

In 1380, for the first time ever in Europe, an elliptical dome was added, which later became the inspiration for even bigger domes in Florence and later at St Peter’s in Vatican and St. Paul’s in London.

Though admission is free, an entrance coupon from the ticket office or a ticket from one of the other Piazza deiMiracoli sights is required.

Battistero

The baptistry of Pisa is unusually round. It has one dome piled on another, with each roofed half in lead and half in tiles. This structure is topped by a gilt bronze John the Baptist (1395).

The famous scientist Galileo Galilei was from Pisa. The story goes that he came up with the laws of the pendulum, watching a lamp in Pisa’s cathedral swing! He was baptised in the octagonal font (1246). Do not miss the demonstration of the spectacular acoustics and echo effects of the double dome, at the Upper Gallery, by the custodian, every half-hour.

The Arno promenade

Besides the Miracle’s square, Pisa is well-known for its Arno river promenade too. All streets along the Arno are favourite spots for the youngsters of Pisa and tourists alike.

Camposanto

Constructed around a field of soil bought back from the Crusades, the long building serves as a burial ground. A body will rot in this soil within 24 hours, says a legend. Within the white walls, arranged around a garden in a confined quadrangle of this beautiful building, is said to lie, the soil shipped from Calvary during the Crusades. This is the final resting place to many prominent Pisans.

Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina

The waterside triple-spired church is a not-to-be-missed spot, an exquisite gem of Pisan-Gothic architecture, enveloped with tabernacles and statues. It was built to house a reliquary of a spina (thorn) from Christ’s crown, between 1230 and 1223.

Relax

Locals and tourists head to the vast grassy area behind the Duomo – a perfect place to spend an afternoon, basking in the sun.

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