One day in Pisa - Leaning Tower of Pisa, Cathedral, Camposanto and more

BUS FROM FLORENCE (FIRENZE) TO PISA 
From the Historic City of Florence, after the last stint at Santa Maria Novella, I took the 1 hr journey by bus to reach Pisa. I went directly to the hostel, dropped my bag, and went straight to the leaning tower of Pisa. It was about 6PM and by this time it would have been closed. Since anyways, I didn't have a ticket to climb the Pisa, I decided to see it all from outside, so I can spend the next day in the other places in the complex. Like the Eiffel Tower or Atomium, you don't need a ticket to see it from outside and it is the most awesome when you see the cityscape with it rather than the city view from atop it!
I took the bus from the hostel to Pisa and guess what, some random stranger, a tourist, asked me if the bus goes to the Tower! Well, I was following Google Maps and was hoping it wouldn't misdirect me. Did I look like a local to him? Anyways, I said, I was getting down there as well. He was a Brazilian and on a Pan-Europe backpacking trip. 
Walking down the passage that goes across Baptistery and Cathedral, and then leads to the Pisa, it was one mesmerizing walk!!! That's one more of the 7 Wonders of the World struck off my list!!!

LEANING TOWER OF PISA

HISTORY OF THE LEANING TOWER OF PISA & ASSOCIATED MONUMENTS
The whole complex consists of Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), Cathedral, Baptistery, Sinopias Museum, Cathedral Museum, and Leaning Tower of course. The construction of the whole place began in 1064 CE. The tower as such was built in 1173 - 1372 CE. However, the construction was halted several times in between including for an entire century due to wars!




 







ARCHITECTURE OF THE LEANING TOWER OF PISA
It being leaning, is actually a construction problem, a mistake to be precise. The foundation was not laid properly added with the fact that the ground was soft on one side than the other, caused its leaning even as it was being constructed, just as they reached 2nd floor in 1178 CE. I read somewhere that the foundation was just 3m for this super structure, though I don't know of the authenticity of this info. Stupidity, right??? As they reached the higher floors, they tried to compensate this with, increasing the height of pillars on the slanting side to make it appear straight, but again in total vain. Finally, The 7 floors were completed in 1319 and the bell chamber was added in 1372.
Much later it was closed for public in 1990 as its tilt got too much! Cables were attached in the 3rd floor against the leaning direction and were secured a few 100m away, bells were removed to reduce strain, blocks of weight were added to increase pressure, soil was also removed from this side to make this side sink down a bit and it worked!!! After 10 years of stabilization efforts, it was re-opened in 2001. 

SCULPTURES OF THE LEANING TOWER OF PISA
The detailing in this was not much, its very less. But whatever is there, is pretty much interesting. Roaming all over Europe. I've been seeing such weird mythical creatures, many a times, eating other mythical creatures in ancient structures that were built around 10th C CE. A lady at Switzerland, told me there were connection between the Pagan traditions and these symbolization!!!

HOW TO GET THE BEST PHOTO IN FRONT OF THE LEANING TOWER OF PISA?
Btw, see the 2nd pic of this post??? See how I stand all alone in front of Pisa!!!! That's one of my treasured photograph. That was taken on Day 2, when I went there early in the morning at about 8:30AM and there were hardly anyone at all and I got my solo photo-op there with absolutely no one around in front of one of the 7 Wonders of the World!!!





PISA CATHEDRAL

VISIT PISA CATHEDRAL
After being awe struck at the mere sight of Pisa Tower, I quickly composed myself and headed to the Cathedral. The Cathedral was open till 8 PM and it opened only by 10 AM, so my target was to finish seeing the Catherdral in the evening and see the Camposanto and Baptistery next day morning as those 2 opened by 8 AM!
As soon as I entered the Cathedral I was awestruck - One of the major paintings (or rather a mosaic work) that I studied as an art history student, was there in front of my eyes. There, atop the altar, in the curved dome of the ceiling was Jesus Christ seated made of mosaic and gilded a lot in gold! But then the depression struck as I went closer to it - what I was actually seeing was the digital print of the original work in the original size! Ahhhhh......
Restoration of the ceiling atop the nave was happening. So a plank was put up, that covered most of the original mosaic work!!!! The closest I could reach, I could see about the lower half of the original as in the above pic! That’s it!!! I requested them so much to let me go in for 1 little moment, but they wouldn’t!!! My luck – restoration and conservation was happening everywhere I went – Windsor Castle, Sagrada Familia, Milan Duomo, Florence Duomo, Pisa Cathedral, everywhere…. :) :) :)
Anyways, my little happiness was that the similar, smaller works on the east and west transepts were visible. Now, check out the detailing – the way the mosaic pieces are arranged to follow the natural flow, the subtle tonal variation on the skin to show the depth perception, all that in not painting, but in mosaic work!!!
The western transept has the relic of Saint Ranieri, who died in 1161. The curved wall of the altar was completely filled with paintings. 
The pulpit was a masterpiece in ivory. The sculptural detailing in it was just spectacular, or should I say, unusual. This was sculpted by Giovanni Pisano in 1302-10 combining the 3 orders, superimposed. Some of the figures in it, I could figure out, but the rest, I couldn’t. Atop were panels in each facet that told the story of some prophets and saints as well as Jesus Christ incl Slaughter of innocents, Escaping Egypt, Nativity etc.
It has 8 pillars around and 1 central pillar. 4 were plain cylindrical while 4 were sculptural. The lower part of the 2 plain pillars had ferocious lions killing horses which I didn’t know the reason/story behind. The sculptural pillars were all humans depicting cardinal virtues and evangelists. There was a Moses clad in animal skin, there was a lady feeding 2 children on his breasts, a n*ked woman with an huge eagle (Daenerys of GoT was inspired by her?), a woman holding a dead lion etc . The central pillar was a combo of 3 humans who shared forearms in the sculpture depicting the Arts of Trivium, Quadrivium and Theological Virtues.
The present structure of the church was built after the 1595 fire. Didn’t I already tell you major arsons had happened all across UK & Europe time and again in history. The oldest surviving painting here is of 13th C. It is of Virgin with Child on a golden background and quite unusually infant Jesus is shown here holding a book on which a Biblical verse is written in Greek. When it was painted is unknown and in 1225 it was brought to the Cathedral.
It was almost 8 PM and they were sending people out of the Cathedral when I came out. There were 3 doors and they were a thing of beauty with several panels of high relief bronze sculptures on them. I do not know when these bronze doors were made. Atop each of them, was this mosaic panel which such a gorgeous level of intricacy. On the edging atop the 2nd floor was this very interesting panel – an entire row of assorted animals in very amusing postures including pigs feeding the piglets!

PISA BAPTISTRY

Exactly opposite to this was the baptistery. However it was also closed by then and I set off back to the hostel. Next morning I was there by 8.15 since its opening time was 8 AM. I was the first person to enter it. From the exterior it’s a circular building with sculptures in its mezzanine level panel, all around the building with a centrally placed Madonna with infant Jesus surrounded by apostles sculpted in 1152 CE. I must say I was rather intrigued be the quality, or rather the lack of aesthetics of the sculpture! But later on, I came across this video explaining, why these sculptures lack beauty. Check it out...
Just above the door, was a panel of Last Supper and scenes from the life of Jesus which were much more intricate and detailed and aesthetically pleasing than the larger sculptures. Right atop was this bronze sculpture of John the Baptist, greened today reminding me much of the sculptures at Stocklet Palace in Brussels.
Inside, at the centre was the bronze sculpture of John the Baptist. The hexagonal pulpit here was an interesting one, but not as intricate as the Cathedral. 
On the wall was a tiny door, which was the opening to a curved staircase passage, hidden between the inner and outer walls, that took to the mezzanine floor. 
The view from this floor of the Cathedral and the Leaning Tower behind it, in that morning, against the rising sun was a view totally worth getting up early in the morning (ofcourse, getting the solo shot in front of the Leaning Tower was also worth it to rise early!)
The baptistry floor is octagonal surrounded by an intricately inlay and cutout marble parapet wall. The pillars were plain but for the cornices which were sculpted with such detailing depicting mythological events and stories. This was a common factor in most of the 11-14th C Churches all across UK & Europe incl Canterbury, Basel etc. At one place, a lady informed me that the pagan origins of Christianity is the reason behind these sculptures that these spots were originally pagan worship spots. However I don’t know its authenticity and I’m yet to figure out the stories behind these imageries. If you know, please let me know.






















PISA CAMPASANTO

To begin with I hardly had any time left after seeing the Baptistery and anyways I didn’t expect anything out of the Campasanto other than some tombstones and tablets. I hardly had 1 hr left when I entered the Campasanto and I was just mindblown.
The basic structure of the Camposanto is as usual, a square shaped one. One portion of the wall has some marble sculptures and guess what, these were the originals of the cast that I saw in Florence Uffizi Gallery! The whole corridor was filled with sarcophagi along the walls. There are ofcourse arches all along the wall like any other cemetery. 
But that’s not the eye-catching factor! The entire wall is completely filled with murals, though not in a great condition & eroded a lot, it was just awesome!
It was built in 1277 and the frescoes were made in 14th C by Francesco Traini and Bonamico Buffalmacco. At that very moment I came to know that fact, I realized I was standing in front of frescoes that were older than Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel which were painted in 16th C!!! Most of the subjects I did not understand and were from the Old Testament and the saints of Pisa!
One particular panel that totally caught my attention was this panel about hell. Centrally places was a monster and all around it were humans going through various torture techniques in hell incl holding their own severed head, standing with their intestines pulled out, being fried and barbecued, being eaten by dragons and snakes – it was just gruesome at its worst!!!
There was also a nativity scene and the Adoration of Magi. Another scene that I could understand was the building of Babylon! Especially the way the buildings and architecture was depicted was awesome. Reminded me much of Ajanta Frescoes though this more than a millennium newer!!!
There are a couple of tiny chapels and a major chapel in this place. The 2 tiny chapels are called Chapel Ammannati and Chapel Aulla. Atop one of the tiny chapels was this outline design. I think the artist gave up before completing it!  Then is the spectacular other chapel called Dal Pozzo.
The moment I stepped into this Chapel, it was altogether a different feel. It was originally commissioned by archbishop of Pisa Carlo Antonio Dal Pozzo in 1594. Right above is the dome with the 4 Gospels painted in 4 corners. The shrine is of St.Jerome and has his Mural painted on the altar. 
Later in 2009, this became the Cathedral of relics and today it houses a whooping 80 relics including - eleven of the twelve Apostles, two fragments of the True Cross, a thorn from the Crown of Thorns of Christ and a small piece of the dress of the Virgin Mary. The entire place was golden in color. It was just mind blowing!
As I said in the beginning, all I had was just 1 hr at Camposanto and the place was a pandora’s box for anyone who’s interested in art and history - murals, sculptures, relics, it was just too much for 1 hr!!!! Esp. the murals themselves need half a day!!!

PISA TOWN

Apart from the main Pisa Tower complex (incl the Leaning TowerCathedral, Baptistery and Camposanto), I didn’t have much plans or time, so I was just roaming about on foot. But yeah, Pisa Town is so beautiful that roaming about is necessary to feel the beauty of the Town!
After being mesmerized by the awesomeness of Pisa Tower, I chose to walk back to the hostel, just to feel the local impression of Pisa Town. Just before the Pisa Centrale Railway Station is Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. By evening the entire place was filled with people – youngsters in love, older people chatting, some with a book and/or a dog, office goers relaxing after a tough day…… The setting sun just made the place so beautiful!
Most of the streets here were curvy and esp the streets around the Pisa complex were just gorgeously curved, reminding me much of Edinburgh & Bath! Just as I said, then, here too it looks like the place got frozen in time a few centuries ago!
Just like how London has Thames, Paris has Sienne, Berlin has Spree, Basel has Rhine, Amsterdam has Amstel and Florence has Amo, here, Pisa has Arno! The river with its colorful buildings on either sides, it was just a visual delight! Just besides Arno, was this tiny little church that I spotted on the way.
This tiny little church is called Santa Maria della Spina. Its open from 10 AM to 12 Noon and 5 PM to 8 PM, so unfortunately I couldn’t go inside the church! It’s a cute little Gothic styled church built in 13th C and was rebuilt in 1871. 
On my way back from Pisa Cathedral, I came across this place called Piazza dei Cavalieri or the Knight Square, which was the 2nd main square since the medieval times. The building that totally caught my attention here was Palazzo della Carovana which houses the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. This was built in 1562–1564 by Giorgio Vasari. What caught my attention was the artwork in its exterior by the Sgraffiti technique! The technique is when 2 layers of plaster of different colors, in this case a grey beneath and a white atop. Then the upper layer is scratched off, to reveal the bottom layer forming a gorgeous pattern! The sculpture in the front is of Cosimo I de Medici. Just beside this building is the Palazzo dell'Orologio also called the Clock Tower. This was originally built in 1288, however got rebuilt several times after that! The present structure is only about a century old!
I did spot a couple of installations all over the town. I dunno if they are permanent or keeps changing. Spot the egg shaped installation in front of Santa Maria della Spina. There was a sperm-shaped one near the Pisa Tower and this white fluid shape is from Piazza dei Cavalieri! From here I headed over to Milan and that's coming up in the next few posts. Stay tuned.

Here are some tips:
There are way too many sites that sell tickets for entry and I had a tough time to figure out which is real and which is fake, so let me make your life easier - Official Pisa Tower Tickets by OpaPisa
I didn't take any transport within Pisa Town and walked about the whole town! Its a small town with River Arno in its midst and its best experienced walking about. But yes, 1 day transport passes are available for the buses, which I took once just to experience it. There are no trams here and its too small for metro.
There are so many people who opt for Pisa Airport to fly in/out of Florence (cheaper option!). So the buses from Florence to Pisa are usually Airport Shuttles and drop at the airport. A short local bus ride from the airport or half an hour walk takes you to the town centre / leaning tower!

DAY TRIPS & WEEKEND TRIPS FROM PISA
Italy is pretty well connected by railway lines and it is quick and easy to travel across the country by train. Here are some easy day trips and weekend trips you could do taking the train from Milan.
Pisa to Turin - Direct train - Takes about 1 hour
Pisa to Vercelli - Direct train - Takes about 1 hour 
Pisa to Lake Maggiore - Direct train to Stresa and Arona - Takes about 1 hour
Pisa to Florence - Direct train - Takes about 2 hours
Pisa to Milan - A high-speed train to Florence and then another train to Pisa takes about 3 hours. Direct train takes about 4 hours. 
Pisa to Rome - Direct train - Takes about 3:30 hours
Pisa to Vatican - Direct train to Rome and walk or take a metro/bus to the Vatican - Takes about 4:00 hours

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. Being an ex - Art History Teacher, my area of interest especially lies in Nature and Heritage. Visited 85 UNESCO World Heritage sites as of June 2022. I've been listed among the Top 7 Women Travel Bloggers of India, Top 50 in UK. I have been interviewed in a couple of TV Shows, Radio Channels and Events as well. Read more about me and read the testimonials of different brands

38 comments:

  1. I missed visiting the interiors of this cathedral. It was a Sunday and prayers were on. So glad to see through your lens. The stories are interesting. The floor pattern is captivating.

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  2. so sad, it can be frustrating to see a digital print covering up the original

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  3. Love the medieval architecture. Takes you back in time. And those paintings are just magnificent.

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  4. You have captured all the details so well, especially the sculptural detailing. Here's hoping I head that side soon.

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  5. The architecture is so beautiful! The mosaics are amazing. The details are truly stunning. Unfortunate that restoration and conservation was happening everywhere. That has happened to us as well in the past.

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  6. Your photos and stories are bringing back some wonderful memories of a trip of mine back in 2006. Now I can't wait to go back to Italy..maybe stay in a castle and help restore it!

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  7. Beautiful - I loved Pisa's cathedral - it's a piece of art that is a bit contrasting with the rest of the town. The view from the tower is also cool :)

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  8. The detailing in the mosaic is incredible - so much depth and obviously so much skill to produce such a masterpiece. Usually everyone is fascinated with the leaning tower of Pisa so it was really refreshing to read all about the Pisa cathedral.

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  9. Your photos capture the intricate details so well, and the history you share is super intriguing. I've never been to Pisa, but one day I might just stand in front of the Pisa Cathedral and think of your blog post ;-)

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  10. The architecture and interiors of cathedral are really intriguing. Unfortunately restoration was a hindrance in your trip. Getting up to get that clean shot is really worth. Like always loved your detailed post and pictures.

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  11. I love cathedrals! They are so peaceful and majestic and this one is no exception!

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  12. Beautiful photos, I really like how you use them to illustrate your visit. How unreal is that ivory pulpit, it's so stunning, and reminds me why I love visiting Italy. The attention to detail is so exact, and makes me appreciate the workmanship that went into making it!

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  13. Awesome photos! The Cathedral is one of the places in my travel bucket list. The sculptures at the baptistery look really wonderful. They're too detailed and worth the time to gaze at.

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  14. Your pictures of the Cathedral are absolutely stunning.
    Viola xo | A Piece of Viola

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  15. Florence you pass as 'mosiac city.' These historical monuments are what make me love Italy irrespective of the headaches I had as a history student.

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  16. The pictures are quite beautiful even though you did not get to see the entire place due to the restoration works.

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  17. Many people don't even enter the cathedral...the leaning tower hogs all the attention! You took the time to study so many finer architectural details. Lovely!

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  18. How amazing! The cathedral and other structures look so massive and equally opulent. I wonder how long it would have taken to build them. The amount of details in the mosaic work and the sculptures is something to look out for. I really love the details in your pics.

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  19. That archetecture is unbeleivable! Such talented people that made these. Great read.

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  20. It's nice to see that there is more to Pisa than just the leaning tower. I've never been but this cathedral looks beautiful. I love the details you captured.

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  21. The Cathedral and Baptistry in Pisa are so beautiful and some of my favorites. I really liked that you described so many details and took the time to admire the beauty and craftsmanship, it helped me relive the last time I was in Pisa!

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  22. I don't think we had a chance to visit the Pisa Cathedral. After soaking in the beauty of the leaning tower, we had to rush back to catch the train to Florence. Very beautiful, hope we can get a chance to return to see this.

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  23. Italy is one of the places I would like to tour. They have great historical buildings with beautiful architectures.

    ❀ Grace ❀

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  24. Oh wow! I think i do want to visit here! The architecture designs and sculptures are beautiful. Would really love to get a photo myself here. Thanks

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  25. Too bad that your visit had to fall on their restoration works. It looks like they are doing a great job on the restoration as the structures and the artworks are well preserved.

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  26. Wow! Some of those sculptures are definitely "interesting"...... That's a great idea visiting as it opens. Must have felt quite surreal being the only one there!

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  27. I love how you add the times when you visit, this is so helpful for people like me who are planning to visit. Everywhere I visit seems to be under going restoration when I visit too, I think some famous landmarks are constantly being maintained! The picture of the cathedral with the leaning tower of Pisa behind it is beautiful, I'll try recreate this picture when I go, as well as the one of you in the previous post outside Pisa with no other tourists!

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  28. Isn't it amazing when you actually stand in front of the work you admired for so long, back from the school days! No wonder it left you in awe. :) I'm always struck by master pieces!

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  29. The cathedral is beautiful! I didn't get a chance to go inside when I visited Pisa. We were with a group and on a tight schedule so we just checked out the exterior.

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  30. Nice job covering this! I actually went there myself a while back. Though, I wasn't quite as enthused as you were it seems. I found the whole thing to be super over-touristed, but, of course, it's still an amazing feeling to be there.

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  31. Again a very nice article and pictures of sculpture of Italy. Nice mosaic work on the roofs of Cathedral. I have been to Pisa but never noticed so minutely. Your early morning shot of Pisa is really stunning and waking up early is justified after taking such a nice shot.

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  32. What an incredible place. Your pictures of all the beautiful mosaics make me want to pack up today and head to Florence!

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  33. Haven't been to see the Leaning Tower. It is nice to know there is another beautiful masterpiece across it...the Pisa Cathedral! And, of course, I always love the sacredness and solitude of baptistries.

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  34. Thanks for sharing. Love all your details and pictures :-) Very inspiring.

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  35. Reading your post rekindled pleasant memories of Pisa. Indeed the Leaning Tower grabs your attention, gleaming white against the green lawns, but there is so much more to see. The Cathedral is magnificent and the interiors are exquisitely designed. A veritable treasure trove of art.

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  36. I honestly didn't even know this was here. Is that awful? What a stunning building, I would love the chance to explore it ! Beautiful pictures :)

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