Italy – Pisa – Piazza del Miracoli
When I started planning for the trip to Italy, I realized that it was going to be impossible to do justice to what the country has to offer in one week. So, we decided to focus on a couple of places and see them to the extent possible. As widely stated, one can spend weeks in any of the historic towns of Italy and still come back with places that had been missed out.
So, we narrowed on visiting Florence and Rome on this trip. This was a good decision because we found that after a week of visiting monuments, churches and museums, each one rich in architecture and history, one starts getting confused about the places visited and also completely exhausted, both from information overdose and walking around.
We arrived in Florence by train via Milan from Switzerland.
We had booked rooms in Hotel Nuova Italia in the heart of Florence, It is about 15 min walk from the station with the luggage. The hotel is perhaps family run with a very friendly and helpful set of members on the front desk. The rooms are regular but the location fantastic. We checked in, freshened up quickly and went to a restaurant recommended by the hotel and just a few shops down the lane. The restaurant was decorated with all kinds of antique stuff, the lamps were bottom cut metal kettles, each of the table set was antique and no 2 chairs were similar yet the place looked beautiful. The food was even better! We had enough time left to get to Pisa and be able to spend about 4 hrs there, so we got back to the station and took a train to Pisa. We had traveled on Europass from Switzerland in the morning and wanted to make most of it by taking up the trip to Pisa on the same day.
17 May 2019
Most of the passengers on the train were headed to the Piazza del Miracoli, a UNESCO World Heritage site which is a walled 8.87-hectare area and the main attraction in Pisa, Tuscany. The square has the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, the freestanding bell tower, Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry and the Cemetery, Camposanto Monumentale. The 25 min walk is via Corso Italia, a hep market place which is lined with stores and thronging with visitors. A lively place where one can easily spend some time just watching the people. I think it was in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele that I noticed this interesting store which sold newspapers, souvenirs and other small nick-nacks. I found the design excellent. The windows of this hexagonal structure open in the middle and top section form the awning and the bottom section the display area. We came across a number of beautiful statues, and a couple of churches including the San Michele in Borgo. The view of the river Arno lined with houses is very picturesque and gives the old town feel. We also came across the Renaissance square with the Medici statue. After this, we got quite engrossed in the narrow lanes and the architecture of the old buildings that we missed a turn and had to be guided back.
It was around 3:30 pm when we got off the train and we were at the ticket counter by 4:00 pm. One has to deposit everything including the jackets and excluding cameras and phones at the locker room. We could get the 4:15 pm slot to go up the tower. We were extremely thrilled with how lucky we got. With just a handful of folks ahead of us we did not have much time to look around. Kept that for later.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, built by 1372 AD over 200 years, is 185.93 ft high, tilted by about 4 degrees, seven-story tower with walls which are 2.44m thick. There are pillars and arches around the verandas on each of the floors though there is no access to them or it is blocked. The ground floor is much taller and once can see some statues and carvings at the top of the entrance. We could walk up using its narrow staircase which has 296 steps, worn-out heavily due to continuous use. In most places, the two-way crossing is tight especially on the higher floors. The outside view from the tower is excellent. While the climb is not so easy largely due to the condition of the steps, there is no choice but to continue climbing till the 4th floor to rest a little and then continue until the 7th floor which has 7 bells of different sizes. The view of the Cathedral and the City from this floor is absolutely breathtaking. The next floor climb is really narrow but absolutely worth it. The area is fenced for safety reasons so taking pictures is a bit of a struggle. After spending about 20 minutes on the top two floors we descended.
The monument was on my list since high school and I was happy to have finally not just seen it but also climbed it! We then tried some of the standard tourist shots. The crowd had increased much more by now as the evening set and there were tourists everywhere. We picked up our stuff from the locker and walked from the backside of the cathedral towards the Camposanto. We had decided not to visit the same for some strange reason! So I just admired it from outside and continued towards the Cathedral entrance.
The Cathedral is dedicated to St Mary of the Assumption. It was constructed in 1064. A pure white marble church has a unique Pisan Romanesque architecture which is supposedly a combination of classic, Islamic, Lombard and Byzantine elements. The Cathedral’s interior is beautiful and on display are works by some Italian artists. The paintings, the Fresco, the stain glass windows as well as the sculptures make the visit inside really worthwhile. We spent a lot of time around the elaborately carved pulpit which is a masterpiece sculpture made in 1302 by Giovanni Pisano. I was particularly intrigued by the huge bronze doors which had very intricate carvings on them. The front of the church looks very different from most churches and the complete beauty of it can be seen from the Baptistery. The pillars and arches on the 5 levels similar to those around the bell tower and the statues standing on the top overlooking the garden.
The Baptistery which is right opposite the cathedral is around Romanesque building. It is difficult to take your eyes off this monument which has a very extensive number of architectural elements to absorb. It is also the largest Baptistery in Italy with a circumference of 107.25m. The front entrance is flanked by two classical columns. The lintel is divided into 2 tiers. The lower one depicting episodes in the life of St John the Baptist and the upper one showing Christ between the Madonna and St John, flanked by angels and the evangelists. The top story and the dome are in Gothic style and credited to Giovanni and Nicola Pisano. The monument is so huge that we kept walking back and forth to be able to capture its full beauty. The backside of the dome is covered with terracotta tiles and looks beautiful. I am still not clear why two different styles have been used for the dome. We did not enter the Baptistery as we’d have to go back to the ticket counter for the tickets and we were not very keen either.
It was nearly 6:00 pm and we were wondering whether we should head back. We noticed a few people walking on the wall surrounding the Piazza del Miracoli. The entrance to the same is from the backside of the Baptistery. We retraced our steps, bought the ticket and went up. We had less than an hour before it closed so the ticket checker asked us not to go until the end but retracing our steps once we hit the half time mark! The view of the Piazza from the top is fantastic. One can see all the monuments in one shot. We first covered the wing that took us right behind the Baptistery and the Church and gave a good view of the three monuments on one side and the market place on the outside of the walled area. We then walked on the other side next to the Cemetery and the office buildings behind the cathedral. From here one gets the view of the monuments flanked by trees and garden and on the outside the view of the well-planned city with the red-tiled roofs merging into the hills at a distance. We got back well in time before the place was locked and headed to the market place behind. The souvenirs quality is fairly poor but then how could we leave without buys a few.
As we walked back to the station we came across a number of eateries and pizzerias calling out to the visitors. We crossed the beautiful Arno river again. By 8:00 pm we were back at the station to board the train back to Florence. Completely tired but very satisfied.