A city which once echoed to the footsteps of one of the world’s most renowned Astronomer and Physicist, Galileo.
A city which is home to a university dating back to the 12th century. A 185 feet tower which is famous for not standing erect!
This is the city of Pisa situated in Tuscany, Central Italy.
When we were in Florence the city drew us into its folds like a magnet. There was no way that we could give this city a miss on our trip to Italy when we covered Rome and Florence.
Florence is well connected to Pisa by Rail as well as road. We opted for a guided Bus tour of Pisa, which we booked through Isango. Our experience with booking through Isango has always been pleasant and the tours have always gone off without a hitch.
On a bright, sunny afternoon, we boarded an air-conditioned bus from the Piazza Stazione, a stone’s throw away from Florence Railway Station. It was a Double Decker bus and we rushed to the top and planted ourselves in the front seat, which gave us a fantastic view of the road and the sights that we would pass. We were not at all disappointed as the drive from Florence to Pisa which took approximately 90 minutes was an experience in itself. We admired the famous Tuscan countryside as our bus glided away smoothly on the expressway towards its rendezvous.
All along the journey our in-bus guide regaled us with information about Tuscany and Italy and kept us entertained with tidbits about the villages and towns that we passed. Of particular interest to us was the village of Collodi which we passed by in the distance, we were informed that this small village was the birth place of the Italian writer Carlo Lorenzini, better known by his pen name Carlo Collodi. By the way, Carlo Collodi is the creator of the famous character Pinnochio.
We reached Pisa in good time and got down from the bus with an air of expectation. We were met by a jovial lady who was the local guide for our Pisa visit, and soon we were off like obedient school children, marching behind the guide who was brandishing an umbrella like a teacher’s cane.
After a walk past some colourful and dainty houses, we turned and approached, what seemed to be a section of an ancient wall and passed through a gate. “This is the famous gate, Porta Santa Maria” informed our guide, pointing her umbrella at it!
But our eyes were riveted on what we saw beyond the gate. Before us stretched the beautiful Piazza dei Miracoli.
Beautiful green lawns stretched out in front of us and from this sea of green rose magnificent structures which shone with a pearl like whiteness, contrasting vividly with the green grass. It was an awe inspiring sight that remains frozen for posterity in our minds’ eye. The white poems in stone that shone before us against the green backdrop were the Baptistery, the Cathedral, the Monumental Graveyard and last, but not the least, the piece de resistance, The Leaning Tower of Pisa.
This is an elegant circular building made of white marble and very pleasing to the eyes. Our guide pointed at the Baptistry with her umbrella and began her soliloquy on the history of the structure. The Pisa Baptistry which is dedicated to St. John the Baptist was completed in 1363 and was designed by Diotisalvi, whose signature is visible even today on two pillars inside the Baptistry. With a height of 54.86 metres and a diameter of 34.13 metres, the Baptistry is the largest of its kind in Italy and Galileo was supposed to have been baptized here.
The centre piece of the Piazza dei Miracoli is the Cathedral, its lovely facade stands like an ode to the heavens, its grey marble and white stone gleaming in the sunlight. The Cathedral is dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and its construction was begun in the year 1064 by the architect Buscheto.
Three massive bronze doors beckon you to enter the hallowed interiors of the Cathedral. Above the doors are four rows of open galleries and on on top of these, at the centre stands a statue of Madonna with Child flanked by the four Evangelists in the corners. The interior of the Cathedral is made of black and white marble. Much of the interiors have been renovated after a fire that devastated it in the year 1595. There is an impressive mosaic of Christ in Majesty flanked by the Blessed Virgin and John the Evangelist, which miraculously survived the fire. Another remarkable feature of the Cathedral is its intricately designed Pulpit, which is a reconstruction of the original one that was destroyed in the fire.
The Monumental Graveyard or The Camposanto Monumentale
This is a walled graveyard said to be built in the 12th century by the Archbishop of Pisa. The graveyard is situated towards the northern end of the Piazza dei Miracoli and consists of an outer wall with 43 blind arches and two doors. The door on the right is adorned with a tabernacle containing a statue of the Virgin Mary and Child. Majority of the tombs lie under the arcades while there are a few in the central lawns as well.
The Campanile or The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Piazza dei Miracoli is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy. As soon as you step into the Piazza dei Miracoli, formerly known as Piazza Del Duomo, from the Porta Santa Maria, what you see is a sea of gleaming white set vividly against the contrasting green of the grass, and then you spot the Leaning Tower of Pisa which seems to be hiding shyly behind the Cathedral, blushing at the billions of admiring glances that come its way. As you walk closer to the Tower the beauty and elegance of the Tower wraps you in its spell and you are transfixed in admiration. A beautiful white structure with a blemish, a tilt because of which it draws millions of visitors to its fold.
It is interesting to note that the Tower of Pisa is the free standing Bell Tower of the Cathedral. Its height is 185.93 Feet from the ground on the higher side. The width of the walls at the base is about 8 Feet and it has an estimated weight of about 14,500 Metric Tonnes. The unique tilt of the Tower is the result of faulty construction in the initial stages. The foundation was too soft on one side of the tower because of which the tilt occurred. The tilt increased as the Tower neared completion till it was partially corrected during the 20th and 21st centuries. Today the Leaning Tower of Pisa leans at about 3.99 Degrees resulting in the top of the Tower being displaced about 12 Feet from the centre. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The construction of the Leaning Tower of Pisa was started in the year 1173 and continued for over 200 years, owing to stoppages because of ongoing wars. The Tower is made up of 8 storeys with the top one housing the bells, there are 7 bells each representing one of the musical notes.
One can climb the 296 steps up to the Bell Chamber and get a panoramic view of Pisa, trips can be booked with or without the Tower entry through Isango.
We climbed the steps and reached the top of the Tower where seven bells hung in seven alcoves, we marveled at the beauty of the Piazza dei Miracoli from our vantage point. As we stood there and gazed out, our minds traveled back in time to when Galileo must have stood at this very spot and dropped two spheres of different masses to demonstrate that their descent was independent of their mass.
Soon it was time for us to leave as our ever smiling Guide heralded us all together towards our bus.
We turned around at the gate to have one last look at the wonderful Leaning Tower of Pisa that looked like a multi-storeyed wedding cake, a cake that stood as a tribute to its unknown architect.