Pisa. This city is more than just the home of the famous leaning bell tower.
Pisa is a historical hub designed for anyone with an appreciation for world heritage in serene surroundings, with great food and friendly faces aplenty. As you stroll through the city arches you’ll discover stunning churches, palaces, cafes and libraries, all inviting you to immerse yourself in the unique Pisano culture.
Last year in the scorching summer, I was lucky enough to take a trip to Tuscany with my heavily pregnant wife and her family. We were on our way to stay at a sweet hillside house in the Tuscan hills, but before going there we decided to stop over in Pisa after a long flight.
What I discovered was a city brimming with great culture, food, history and just a brilliant ether. Not only did my heart jump, leap and spin at seeing one of the world’s most famous iconic images (the leaning tower), but I had not even realised that this tower shared its square with structures that are just as immense and important.
In this square, surrounded by ancient Roman walls, stood the Cathedral, ‘Il Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta,’ and the grand circular structure of the Baptistery ‘Battistero di San Giovanni.’ These two buildings stood alongside their more famous counterpart, but in their own ways, had individually impressed all that came to visit the ‘Piazza dei Miracoli.’
Firstly, the cathedral. Constructed in 1092 and designed by Buscheto, this extraordinary building gives you an incredible example of the many influences and styles that entered Italian cultures and societies at the time of its rendering.
Over time, as many different wings, architectural alterations and additions were made, it has become a classic example of how religion can drive man to create the most striking buildings.
Inside you are greeted by a vaulted ceiling laden in gold leaf and archways full of religious artworks depicting the almightiest biblical scenes. Adorning the many walls are relics of fallen saints for all eras and ages. But the carvings were the most impressive feature. The Pulpit (1310) that took command at the centre of the cathedral, dazzled your imagination and sent sparks of thought flying as to how someone could have carved such an amazing artwork.
The same can also be said for the Baptistery. Completed in 1363 and given an incredible facade by the artistic brilliance of Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, the same father and son duo that helped bring life to the cathedral with its brilliant pieces of masonry, the Baptistery is a Romanesque example of architecture designed to take your breath away. Along the rows across the top stand you will encounter many figures and scenes. The outside is busy with lots of intricate stone works and you need extra time in your visit to fully examine every figure and stone structure.
As you enter, you notice that there is not a huge amount of art and no gold leaf, but a lot more plain, simple masonry. What it does hold, though, is a very special quality.
When I was up on the second floor looking down upon the pulpit (a gem within the building built between 1255 and 1260), a warden of the baptistery came into the middle of the structure.
He looked up, clasped his hands over his mouth and began to chant. The echo bounced around the structure, giving the impression of a choir. It sent chills down my spine and it was hard not to get lost in the atmosphere that this one man had created. It made me wonder what it would have sounded like when an ensemble of singers and musicians took centre stage.
The square was a delight—around it are shops, stalls, a museum and a very relaxing atmosphere. History commands this place; it has lasted centuries and has many stories to tell.
Attentive staff members are on hand and happy to assist, with translation equipment available too. This World Heritage site certainly deserves its title, along with the constant stream of visitors that come to experience its considerable charms every year.
Aaron Crossley is a Heritage Professional, writing and commenting on how governments and organizations protect and conserve our global heritage. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog on Venice at http://keystovenice.wordpress.com/
Concierge tip: It is so easy to reach Pisa from Florence by car or train and enjoy all the amenities described above. Just take advantage of the stay an extra night offer at Relais Santa Croce and ask your concierge to organise your visit to Pisa for you.