Florence - Side trip to Pisa
Don't Lean on Me
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to see the walk from
The Leaning Tower around Pisa
Viator's Semi-Independent Afternoon Tour by Bus from Florence
See the highlights of Pisa with this 5-hour independent tour of the city from Florence. Listen to informative commentary from a host/guide on board the bus on the trip to Pisa. Enjoy the freedom to explore Pisa at your own pace, including the leaning tower and cathedral.
What you will see/not see:
The bus will deliver you to the Piazza dei Miracoli (the place where the bell tower leans). Our walk takes us from the Plaza of Miracles to the Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights Square), across the Arno river on the newly constructed oldest bridge in Pisa, to the little church Santa Maria della Spina (Saint Mary of the Spine), and then back to the tipsy tower by way of the botanical gardens.
After you have seen the tower and taken the obligatory pictures of you holding up the tower, or pushing the tower over, and the obligatory picture of all the tourists doing the same thing... take a tour of the cathedral and the baptistery. In the Duomo museum, you can see the original art and sculptures that have been removed from the areas buildings and replaced with replicas. In the museum of the Sinopias you can look "beyond the frescoes". World War 2 bombing shook the plaster off the frescoed walls revealing the artists original sketches. At he back of the Piazza you'll find a peaceful courtyard which is cqlled the Camposanto Cemetery. The back story here is that centuries ago before silting moved the coast miles away, Pisa was a port. In the 13th century shiploads of dirt were brought from Golgotha (the site of the crucifixion of Jesus) by crusaders to Pisa to create this holy cemetery. I don't understand the draw to this holy dirt, as Jesus was not buried in the ground but rather in a cave or tomb. And ironically, I don't see anyone buried in this dirt in Pisa either. The cloisters around the dirt have the tombs and sarcophagi. The highlight would be the fresco "The Triumph of Death from the 14th century.
We'll venture away from the Plaza of miracles to make a loop around the northern part of Pisa. We won't see anything else as impressive as a tower that leans (or will we? A lot of buildings lean in this part of Italy). What we will see is a charming Tuscan town with fewer tourists than Florence and definitely fewer tourist than at the Plaza of Miracles. Busloads of tourists arrive at the Piazza dei Miracoli with nary enough time to see as much as we have already seen. Our 5 hour journey will allow us plenty of time to see the town. At the Knights Square we'll see a large piazza that was used as a training ground for the knights of the navy in the 1500's. A statue of Cosimo I squashing a poor dolphin looks over the grounds. Pisa's navy ruled the seas at the time and Cosimo will have you know that even the dolphins were subject to his rule. You won;t see any ships of the Pisan navy or any naval knights, as they are both long gone, and Pisa no longer has access to the sea. There are many places around the Mediterranean that used to be ports, but now find themselves miles inland due to silting. We continue on to cross the Arno river on the Ponte di Mezzo. This bridge is the middle of town, and is the site of the first bridge in Pisa to span the Arno. The importance of the bridge was noted by the British and Americans during World War 2 and was destroyed by Allied bombers. The current bridge is serviceable but lacks that old world charm. However, it's not the bridge, but the view from the bridge that is worthwhile. We'll walk along the Arno to a little church called Santa Maria della Spina. This church was named as such because it was built to house a spine from the crown of thorns. The church is only open a few days per week, but the outside holds more to see than the inside. The thorn is no longer here and the inside of the church is just a single empty room. The ceiling is interesting, but otherwise the the view of the outside is the attraction. We head back across the Arno by way of a different bridge for our scenic stroll back to the Piazza dei Miracoli by way of the botanical gardens.
Beyond the Bricks:
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a world famous landmark. Tours of all types stop at the Plaza of Miracles, usually for just long enough to get a few pictures, and if prior arrangements have been made, climb to the top of the tower. It's amazing that the reason that this particular bell tower has become the most famous in the world is simply because it is slowly falling over. Other towers have toppled, but this one has been saved from toppling by the investment of millions of dollars and years of efforts. Would people still come if they were to straighten it completely? Why that would ruin the effect, wouldn't it? The thing that I don't think most tourists realize until they are here, is that the tower is just one of three buildings of a huge cathedral complex. The cathedral and the baptistery are worth seeing as well as the museums that house the original art. The town of Pisa itself is an underrated destination also. Most of the churches in Europe were constructed and filled with art in a way to command attention and to attract parishioners. Pisa is no exception, except that they had no idea that the one thing that would command attention from people around the world is that they chose to build the tower upon unstable ground.
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The Daily Walk
looks for stories beyond the bricks that you see. Places are interesting because of the back story. Sometimes the back story explains that which you see, and sometimes the back story gives you a perspective when there is nothing to see.