Pisa is a wonderful city in the Tuscany region in central Italy. It has a lovely position right by the Arno River. This city is best known for its leaning tower and lots of tourists come just to see it. However Pisa offers many impressive and beautiful things to see and delight in. So come for the tower but stay to see all that this city has to offer – Gothic churches, Romanesque buildings and Renaissance piazzas.
Let’s begin with Pisa’s most well-known sight the Torre Pendente or Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tower leans at an amazing 3.9 degrees off the vertical and is 56m high. It took practically 200 years to build its bell tower. The tilt is caused by a layer of weak subsoil. The building of the tower began in 1173 with architect Bonanno Pisano. He abandoned this project when after the third tier was built it started leaning. Work started again in 1272 and this time was paused the construction and the tower was finally completed in the second half of the 14th century. Over the next 600 years the tower continued tilting at an estimated 1mm per year. The tower has steel braces around the third storey and it joined to neighboring buildings by steel cables. At one time 70 tons of earth were removes from the northern side and the tower sank to its 18th century level and this rectified the lean by 43.8cm. Now they believe that the tower will be around at least for the next three centuries. Today 40 people can get into the Leaning Tower at one time, children under eight are not allowed in and children from the age of eight to twelve must hold on to the hand of an adult. Each visit lasts for thirty minutes and there is a steep climb up some 300 steps that at times are slippery. The only thing that can be taken up is a camera.
Construction on the very impressive Romanesque Duomo started in 1604 and it was consecrated in 1118. The exterior is most striking with green and cream marble bands and it is topped by a gold wooden ceiling. The elliptical dome – the first of its kind to be built in Europe – was added in 1380. The main facade has four exquisite tiers of columns and the interior is 96m long and 28m high kept up by 68 strong granite columns in classical style. The wooden ceiling is decorated with 24-carat gold. Most attractive are the three pairs of 16th century bronze doors at the main entrance. You can decipher the Biblical scenes depicted on the door like the immaculate conception of the Virgin and birth of Christ at the central doors, the road to Calvary and crucifixion of Christ and the Ministry of Christ. Inside is a marvelous early 14th century octagonal pulpit in the north aisle sculpted from Carrara marble by Giovanni Pisano. It features nude and heroic figures. There is also the controversial 2001 pulpit and altar created by Italian sculptor Giuliano Vangi.
Pisa has a most unusual round baptistry that has one dome atop of another and each is roofed half in lead, half in tiles and topped by a gilt bronze John the Baptist – 1395. Construction was begun in 1152 and was finally completed in the 14th century. Inside the highlight is the hexagonal marble pulpit created by Nicola Pisano in 1260. The lower level of arcades is Pisan-Romanesque and the pinnacled upper section and dome are Gothic. Pisan scientist Galileo Galilei was baptized in the octagonal font. Visitors can climb up to the Upper Gallery and listen to the custodian demonstrate the double dome’s acoustics and echo effects every half-hour on the hour.
Pisa has one of the most beautiful urban spaces in the world – Campo dei Miracoli. Its lovely walled lawns provide a wonderful setting for the Cathedral, Baptistry and Tower. The centerpiece is the candy-striped Cathedral with a most graceful tiered facade and a cavernous interior. The transept’s bronze doors were done by Bonanno Pisano and the 16th century entrance doors by Giambologna. Toward the west is the cupcake-like Baptistry that has a lovely pulpit. Of course the Leaning Tower gets the most attention.
The beautiful Camposanto cemetery flanks the Campo. It is said that this cemetery contains soil shipped from Calvary during the Crusades. Of special interest is the 14th century fresco – The Triumph of Death – on the southern cloister wall. Inside it’s marvelous white walls is the final resting place of prominent Pisans, arranged around a garden in a cloistered quadrangle. Many frescoes were destroyed during WWII and those that were salvaged are on display in the Frescoes Room.
The Triumph of Death (1336-41) is an amazing illustration of Hell created by 14th century painter Buonamico Buffalmacco. Another painting that depicts scenes of horror by the same painter is Last Judgement & Hell found in the same room.
Head for the Museo Nationale di San Matteo to see a wonderful display of medieval masterpieces. The museum is housed in a 13th century Benedictine convent on the Arno’s northern waterfront boulevard. Here you can delight in a collection of paintings from the Tuscan School (12th to 14th centuries). There is also an amazing collection of 14th and 15th centuries Pisan sculptures.
You won’t feel blue seeing Palazzo Blu. This is a wonderfully restored 14th century building with a dusty-blue facade. Inside is impressive 19th century interior decor and the Foundation CariPisa’s art collection highlighted by Pisan art works from the 14th to the 20th centuries.