September 23, 2012

You're A Pisa Work!

Sean was leaving from the Pisa airport on Thursday, so we all decided to take the train with him to explore this famous "leaning tower." We parted ways with Sean at the Pisa Centrale station and stepped outside into the bright sunshine. First order of business was a cappuccino, so we found a little cafe across the street from the train station. After some caffeine fortification, we were ready to venture forth. Armed with a map of Pisa, it didn't look like the tower was that far away from the train station, so we had assumed it would be an easy walk.

After crossing the river, we ran into some tourists from New Jersey who acted like they'd been there before since they said they walked to the tower the previous evening. So we followed . . . and followed. Soon it became clear that we were going in the exact opposite direction of the tower. But we did see some lovely scenery along our misguided trail.

We walked for more than an hour, much to my Dad's dismay. We took it slow though and stopped often for him and Joan to rest. I keep telling him that the walking is good for him!

Finally, we reached the square that houses the cathedral, the baptistery and the famous campanile (leaning bell tower).

The heart of the Piazza del Duomo is cathedral, entitled to Santa Maria Assunta (St. Mary of the Assumption). Construction was begun in 1064 and set the model for the distinctive Pisan Romanesque style of architecture.

The mosaics of the interior, as well as the pointed arches, show a strong Byzantine influence. The interior is faced with black and white marble and has a gilded ceiling and a frescoed dome. It was largely redecorated after a fire in 1595, which destroyed most of the medieval art works.

The church is stunning. Everywhere you look, there's a piece of art, a beautiful fresco, a marble statue. So far, this is the most beautiful cathedral interior we've seen. The coffer ceiling of the nave was replaced after the fire of 1595. The present gold-decorated ceiling carries the coat of arms of the Medici (these guys were everywhere!)


The church also contains the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII, carved by Tino da Camaino in 1315.

The campanile (bell tower) is located behind the cathedral. The last of the three major buildings on the piazza to be built, construction of the bell tower began in 1173 and took place in three stages over the course of 177 years, with the bell-chamber only added in 1372.

Five years after construction began, when the building had reached the third floor level, the weak subsoil and poor foundation led to the building sinking on its south side. The building was left for a century, which allowed the subsoil to stabilise itself and prevented the building from collapsing. In 1272, to adjust the lean of the building, when construction resumed, the upper floors were built with one side taller than the other. The seventh and final floor was added in 1319. By the time the building was completed, the lean was approximately 1 degree, or 2.5 feet from vertical. At its greatest, measured prior to 1990, the lean measured approximately 5.5 degrees. As of 2010, this has been reduced to approximately 4 degrees.

Yes, I know this is a "touristy" thing to do, but we couldn't help ourselves!

It's surprising just how many tourists are on vacation in mid-September. After touring the cathedral and walking around a bit in the piazza, we found a spot for lunch and we were sitting next to a table full of people from Bellevue! Apparently they were all on a "Rick Steves" tour.

After our delicious lunch and required prosecco drink (Spritz), we took a taxi back to the train station for our 2:30 train back to Florence. The rest of the day was spent getting ready for our trek outside the city in a rental car on Friday. Thinking that just relying on our GPS wasn't such a great idea, we found a bookstore and purchased a road atlas. This is where we're going to put our "Amazing Race" theory to the test. Sherry will drive and April will navigate (read the map). We've always said that if we're ever on the Amazing Race together, I would ALWAYS be the driver, and April would be the navigator. Ask me next week how's that working out for ya?

I've put our Pisa pictures on Shutterfly.


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