A Taste of Italy: Part 2 – A day in Pisa

Posted: 22 May 2015 in Travel
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Piazza del Duomo in Pisa

Piazza del Duomo in Pisa

Day 4

Map of old town Pisa

Map of old town Pisa

Italy is filled with iconic buildings that have amazed people the world over. In Pisa they have been considered worthy to be UNESCO World Heritage Sites for nigh on 3 decades. Of these, none are as intriguing as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And on the fourth day of our trip I finally got to see it.

We departed Firenza nice and early to get a good start on the day in Pisa. This time, I stayed awake on the train ride. What was cool was that the train we rode was a local one (since Pisa wasn’t incredibly far from Firenza). It had an old-school feel to it that appealed to me. It made you feel like you were stepping back in time to a less commercial, less chaotic time. I wish I had a picture of it. I felt some peace for that short time.

Pisa was surprisingly smaller than I imagined, but that made me love it that much more. Yeah, I loved Pisa. The path from the train station to Piazza del Duomo was fairly straight forward. From the station, walk down a covered walkway passed numerous shops on Viale Antonio Gramsci, across a few roads through Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, and down the pedestrian area of Corso Italia. The deeper into the city we walked, the more enchanted I was with it. It was also a beautifully clear day, which made it nearly perfect.

We crossed the Arno via the Ponte di Mezzo and continued down the Borgo Stretto. The Piazza del Duomo is naturally situated at the opposite side of the city than the train station, which was great because we got to see the enchaning epicentre of the city as we walked. When we were almost there, we veered from the more direct route left onto Canto del Nicchio (if you see no sign it was left at the Deutsche Bank) and walked through Piazza dei Cavalieri. It is a little off the beaten path, but totally worth it in my opinion. So many beautiful buildings and there was also not a lot of people, which for me is a major bonus.

We entered Piazza del Duomo via Via Santa Maria and boy was it a sight to behold. Jutting at an angle into the sky was the spectacular campanile. You never truly understand the awe of something until you are standing in its presence. As a child I would look at the tower in slides of my mother’s never actually imagining that one day it would be me there documenting it for myself. It was so exciting.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

So. To get the full experience of Piazza del Duomo, there are many different attractions. The piazza itself contains the cathedral, a baptistry, a cemetery, and the tower. In addition to these are two museums. You can purchase your tickets online before you go (like here) or there are a couple ticket offices on site. We went to one of the museums and bought ours. I recommend just getting tickets for everything. You will get a discount and honestly you’ll be happy you did.

Once you get your ticket(s), let me pose you a question. What would be the first thing you would see? Seems pretty obvious right? Of course it does. We looped around the back (side note: toilets cost money to use them on site. Like € .50) and anxiously waited in line to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Since it was still fairly early in the day, the queue wasn’t ridiculously long. Actually, it was surprisingly short, which made me happy since we didn’t have to wait an hour or so to go up. Only like 15-20 minutes.

Cathedral and Baptistry from the Leaning Tower

Cathedral and Baptistry from the Leaning Tower

It was a bit surreal climbing the stairs. You know that the building sits at an angle, but you really feel it when you are walking up the stairs. Imagine you are on a treadmill and it changes from a slight downhill slant to a more pronounced uphill slant. It’s more of a workout than you think. It seems a bit weird, but it’s true. The tower has nearly 300 steps, so it is a nice little climb and the result is a beautiful view of the piazza. I loved the bells at the top of the tower.

Once we had descended from the tower, we hit up the cathedral. If you have for some insane reason decided not to purchase tickets to any of the attractions (because let’s be honest, you’d have to somewhat crazy not to), you can still get into the cathedral as it is free.

Inside the Pisa Cathedral

Inside the Pisa Cathedral

Now I know this may sound blasphemous, but I found the Pisa Cathedral much more beautiful inside than Il Duomo in Firenza. Don’t hate me. I mean, look at that ceiling. Isn’t it incredible?! The entire interior is much more intricate than in Firenza, but the outer facade of Il Duomo is by far much more beautiful. Anyway, I digress. The inside of the cathedral is spectacular. One of the most beautiful pieces is the pulpit. It was designed by Giovanni Pisano in the beginning of the 14th century and it is gorgeous. So much detailed work and exquisite design. It is truly an amazing work of art. One of many you will discover inside the cathedral.

Where the cathedral is ornate and in a sense gaudy, the baptistry is simple and understated. The inside is actually a bit reminiscent of Il Duomo. There is a beauty in its simplicity that makes it worth seeing (regardless that it’ll also take only like 15 minutes or so to see it).

The last of the sites on the piazza is the cemetery, or Il Camposanto. The cemetery was incredibly fascinating and held so many beautiful pieces of art. How I have no photos of them is completely beyond me. The walls are filled with many frescoes in varied states and the floor is site of many tombs. Some of the covers of the tombs were truly impressive, but others were eroded with barely a sign they hold a body beneath them. On the north side of the building are two alcoves filled with varies treasures. It is well worth a walk through.

The font in the Baptistry

The font in the Baptistry

So as I mentioned in the beginning, in addition to the sites on the piazza are a couple museums. Both are fascinating and focus on completely different elements. Museo delle Sinopie is located along the southwestern area of the piazza (and is where we bought our tickets). This museum is filled with many huge, beautiful frescoes, examples of fashion from various Pisan/Italian ages, as well as other historic bits. On the southeastern corner of the piazza (by where we entered the grounds) is the Museo Dell’Opera del Duomo. This museum holds a lot of architectural items and various types of art. We barely made it in as it was getting close to closing time.

Once, I was told by a friend to only spend a couple hours in Pisa as the only thing of real note is the piazza, i.e. the tower. Well, if you really want to get the most out of your visit to this beautiful city, a few hours will not suffice. Plan on spending the whole day. We were lucky that there wasn’t mass hoards of people there (although there was still quite a lot) so we were able to see everything in good time, but this will not always be the case. Take your time while in Pisa and enjoy it. There is also a small bazaar just beyond the eastern wall where you can buy all sorts of tiny knick-knacks and souvenirs. I promise, don’t rush through and you’ll love it 🙂

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