I’ve mentioned in this blog that my mom and I took a 2-week trip to Italy back in February of 2006. For about a week of that trip, we rented an apartment in Florence and alternated between forays throughout Florence and train trips to other Tuscan destinations. We hadn’t originally planned to visit Pisa, partly because Rick Steves didn’t have terribly nice things to say about it. (He has this to say about Pisa’s Leaning Tower: “It’s a cliche that needs to be seen — quickly. The tower is surrounded by what may be Italy’s tackiest ring of souvenir stands. This spectacle is tourism at its most crass).” But since Pisa was one of the places we could easily reach using our pre-paid train pass, we decided at the last minute one morning to make a mad dash to the Stazione di Firenze Santa Maria Novella to catch a train bound for Pisa.
Oddly enough, the “tackiest ring of souvenir stands” doesn’t even figure into my memories of Pisa. Maybe they weren’t as prolific since we were there in February, not high season for tourism. Or maybe Rick Steves is just jaded.
Anyway, I’m pleased to report that we both enjoyed our visit to Pisa much more than we thought we would. We did elect to NOT climb the 296 steps to the top of the famously skewed campanile (because we’re lazy), and opted instead to visit the Duomo, the Baptistery and the Camposanto.
The baptistery was first on our agenda. While not NEARLY as ornate as the baptistery at the Duomo in Florence, this baptistery has a charm all its own, plus it has the distinction of being the biggest baptistery in Italy. Incidentally, the baptistery leans too.
Of particular interest are the acoustics of the place. Periodically, a baptistery employee (seemingly the ticket-taker) takes up a position next to the baptismal font and does a beautiful demonstration of 3-voice polyphonic harmony. (Watch a video HERE).
Next up was the Camposanto, or cemetery, which Rick Steves advised us to skip altogether. Although somewhat macabre (it is a cemetery after all), the Camposanto was very interesting. The building is said to have been built around a shipload of sacred soil from the Holy Land, brought back to Pisa from the Fourth Crusade by Ubaldo de’ Lanfranchi, archbishop of Pisa in the 12th century.
The Camposanto is filled with statuary, tombs and sarcophagi, but my favorite part, I think, was the huge harbor chains hanging on the wall. These chains were taken by the Genoese during a battle in 1342 and were finally returned to Pisa in 1860.
And last, but not least, was the Duomo. Again, not as ornate as some of the other Duomos (Duomi?) we’d seen in Italy, but still quite lovely.
It is said that Galileo began formulating his theories about the pendulum while watching a lamp swing back and forth in the Duomo back in 1583. The façade has lots of interesting carvings, including this one that reminds me of my crazy cat:
You know, now that I think about it, I do remember buying a pewter Leaning Tower of Pisa refrigerator magnet from one of the tacky souvenir stands. Ah well, if you find yourself in Italy one day, do stop by Pisa. Rick Steves clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about.