Today's topic - Pisa
Confession time. I didn't want to go to Pisa. Didn't plan on it. Didn't cross my mind. I had thought to myself, "why would I want to go on a long drive (from Florence) all the way to Pisa just to look at a damn tilted tower?"
I'm glad I didn't listen to myself. I learned that Pisa is more than just the famous leaning tower.
We drove to Pisa and parked on a residential street (for free!) and walked a few kilometers to the Piazza dei Miracoli. When I think of our walk to the piazza, I immediately think of the sweet smell of wisteria. The pretty purple flower was everywhere in the neighborhood that we walked through. We also stopped for a gelato near the University of Pisa (I had lemon, he had hazelnut and almond). When we walked through the (huge) gates into the piazza...I was impressed. There is a large "lawn" area surrounding the famous monuments.
As you can see in the photo above...it's not just the tower. There is the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, with it's beautiful dome and impressive marble exterior. If you think the outside of the cathedral is nice, the inside will blow you away. We spent well over an hour in the church, looking at all of the gorgeous artwork and craftsmanship. There are some rather famous people interred in the cathedral, too. You can see St. Ranieri in his glass coffin, the bones of several other saints, as well as the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII.
In front of the cathedral, there is the Battistero di San Giovanni, the baptistry dedicated to St. John the Baptist. This round building has amazing acoustics, as is demonstrated several times a day by tour guides. The pulpit was intricately carved by the artist Nicola Pisano, the father of Giovanni Pisano, who sculpted tbe pulpit in the cathedral.
Then, of course, you have the leaning tower. Yes, it really does lean. No, I did not climb to the top! Tickets to climb the famous bell tower cost 15 euro, which in my opinion is entirely too expensive! Instead, we spent 20 euro for tickets to 3 monuments and 2 museums. Much better deal there!
My second favorite attraction that we visited (first being the cathedral) was the Capo Santo. It's a walled cemetery that was built around a shipload of soil taken from Golgotha, brought back by crusaders (from the 4th crusade) back in the 12th century. The cemetery is surrounded by a cloister where many famous (and not so famous) pisanos are buried. There are many beautiful sculptures and sarcophagi, as well as a reliquary room filled with the relics of many, many saints...including 11 of the 12 apostles, two fragments of the true cross, a thorn from the crown of thorns, and a small piece of fabric from a dress of the Virgin Mary. On the interior walls of the Capo Santo, there are gorgeous frescoes. Unfortunately, many of these frescoes suffered a lot of damage by bombs dropped by the Allied Forces in WWII. Many have been (and are being) restored. I really loved this place. The sculptures are absolutely gorgeous and cloister surrounding the inner courtyard is so peaceful. It "feels" holy!
We also visited a museum that housed many items from the cathedral and other pieces of artwork (some dating back to the time before Christ), as well as another museum that housed original drawings (sinopias) of the frescoes that are in the Campo Santo.
After all of the sightseeing, we wandered down the street to a pizzeria for dinner. Funny enough, we didn't have pizza as our dinner (although there were some slices in a basket for us to munch on before our dinners came out...which was way better than breadsticks at Olive Garden!).
If you ever find yourself in Tuscany, do take a day to visit Pisa. It has a lot more to offer than just the tower!