|With a 10:00 am reservation to climb the Tower of Pisa in the beautiful Miracle Square (Piazza dei Miracoli)of glistening white marble, I had an opportune time to capture some images in the morning light. This was in constrast to the masses of people and evening light which I viewed last nignt.
The Torre was build at two different times. Three levels were constructed in 1173, in 1277 construction moved on to complete the 7th floor and the belfry. In recent years it has undergone extensive restoration to stabalize the lean, and has been re-opened to the public.
Climbing the Torre has certainly been done by millions. This is evident with the deep indentations of the many footsteps up and down the tower throughout the centuries. Today one observes the deep indentations shifting from left to right as one continues to spiral up the marble stairs within the outer wall and around the open central core. The belfry is the home to four giganitic bells and even more ornate marble work. There is also wooden construction where the bells hang, probably to do with sound. And then one last narrow flight of marble stairs to the top.
The view from the top was even more beautiful than I imagined on this bright, somewhat hazy morning. A more diverse panoramic landscape lay before me than my previous climbs (St. Peter's and the tower in Siena where my camera battery went dead). I could see mountains (will check this out with an atlas or map later) with glimpses of snow on the peaks, the sea, expanses of fields, industrial plants, clay roof tops, leafy squares, the botanical gardens (closed this time of year), church steeples and domes, but most impressive was looking down next door at the cathedral's elaborate dome and a copy of its magnificent Islam-made bronze griffon (original is in the Museo Dell'Opera). I have admired ever so many pillars and arches in the great churches throughout my travels, yet the white marble columns and inlays, and ornate sculptures took on a totally new perspective.
Piazza dei Miracoli has an interesting history and has transformed over the years since the time of Constantine. Only archeological findings remain of this earlier time when Pisa was considered the "other Rome" or the "new Rome". At that time Pisa was central to world trading and the religious community which connected the East and the West. As is the norm in this part of the world, much of the original wall remains intact.
The new church of Saint Mary (Cattedrale) began construction in 1064. The current cathedral is new, relatively speaking, as it stands on the same square where centuries ago a merging point of maritime, river, and roads has been revealed by archeological findings. Its richly decorated features, however, include Arab inspired polychrome lozenges, and on the rooftop its Islam-made bronze griffon.
The other monuments in Piazza die Miracoli stand alone in grandeur, yet appear as a unit on a neo-medieval square- in one glance one can view this open air museum of pure whiteness on a lush green lawn.
The other monuments which reflect Pisa's history and grandeur include:
Battistero (1152) This stately circular building shows the relations between the architecture of Pisa and the East. The Battistero was designed to host the font where the people of Pisa were consecrated Christians.
Camposanta (1277)was bombed July 27, 1944. The cemetary cloistered by four marble walls is where tombs from about the area were gathered in a common place.
The Museo Opera was originally a seminary, and provided singing workshops for clergy, and instruction for bell ringers. Today, the museum holds in safe keeping the elaborate embellishments which were adorned on these monuments.
The Museo Sinopie , formerly a hospital built in 1257 as directed by Pope Alexander IV for pilgrams, the poor and the sick, is now a museum. Herein and with modern technology (slide shows, models) is a chronicle of the construction of this amazing square which was originally the entrance way to Pisa. Pilgrims and visitors alike have been awe-stricken when visiting here. A wall in the Sinopie offers some powerful quotes from some of the visitors through out time.
The words of Dickens and others who have been moved by this spectacular sight seemmed to sum up what I too was experiencing. However, it was the following quote by Beckford which best captured my response (William Beckford, 1835):
"...the Campo Santa... I was quite seized by the strangeness of the place, and paced 50 times and around the cloisters... the arches are airy , the pillars light, and there is so much caprice, such an exotic look in the whole scene, that with out any violent look of fancy -sic- one might imagine one's self in fairyland. Every object is new, every ornament original; the mixture of antique sarophage with Gothic sepulchres, completes the vagaries of the prospect to which one day or another, I think of returning to hear visionary music and commune with spirits, for I shall never find in the whole universe besides so whimsical a theatre."
I too observed such grandeur within and outside the church. Within, there where six rows of pillars. Those who have read The Pillars would certainly make a connection here. It is little wonder that these amazing cathedrals are constructed over a number of decades and even years.
On to Lucca
On two occassions I have met travellers who have suggested I take time to visit Lucca. This medieval town is only 30 minutes by train away, so this is where I journeyed for sight-seeing and dinner.
In thirty minutes the train travelled from Pisa through open fields of wheat and large round hay bales. Soon there were mountain ranges on both sides with relics of castles on some of the craigie ledges. Large open cut-away gaps of white marble often covered the lower portion of these mountains, where no doubt the materials for the great cathedrals and palaces may have originated. Sky divers, like swallows, were enjoying the up draft in one area. Unlike the southern medieval towns in Tuscany, the towns through which we passed where in the valleys between the mountain ranges. Lucca, too, did not sit atop the highest elevation in the area, but rather on a flat plain.
Entring the walls to Lucca was different from the other medieval cities as the entry passage was a tunnel which went down a number of steps and into an open air vestibule, before climbing yet another tunnel of stairs onto a rampart leading down into the town. From the high wall I could hear music, see church domes and spires, cyclists and walkers. Sunday seems to be a day for Italians to walk, visit, and workship. They are dressed in their Sunday best, and even their dogs may be dressed for the occassion.
The wall was most interesting in construction and as mentioned different from others which I have visited. Rather than a buttress of brick, rock, or marble, Lucca's wall was constructed of the red hand-made brick on the exterior, an enormous amount of earth fill, and then the interior stone wall. It was all as wide as Portage Avenue. Two rows of trees were along each side of the paved road, and then grass lawn between the trees and the inner and outer walls. People abounded in this area, on foot and on bicycles. There was another entrance with a very elaborate gate and rampart for local and service vehicles.
Sunday evening life in Lucca was such a pleasure to partake in. Each square, and there were squares around every corner, was different. Most squares had at least one church or cathedral, and there was never once when I could not see some aspect of no less than three churches from every vantage point. A medieval musical celebration was taking place and I could long hear the throng of the heavy drum beats before the colourful costumed musicians were in sight. They were playing brass instruments and throwing banners high into the air and catching them once again to the obvious delight of the on-lookers. Each band wore a different sort of tunic and different colours. I wonder if they were representing different regions in the area.
Other squares offered carousel rides for children, book stalls to rumage through, artists and their works, food, an accordianist performing to small audiences, a small chamber group preparing for a free concert in a church, and all over banners in celebration of Puccini whose home I walked by. One square had a recently placed bronze scupture of Luigi Boccherini presented by Opera di Daphne du Barry in 2008. Like, Venice, music is obviously very much a daily event, as the banners and posters indicate.
Having followed a walking tour in my DK there was still plenty of time for dinner, and 7:00 pm is still happy hour in Italy. People do not start filling the restaurants until 8:00 pm and later. Vino bianca, aqua naturel, and a tomoto antipasto (pannella) was plenty to satisfy my appetite on this warm evening. The antipasto was chopped tomatoes(so far the best flavour in Italy!) in an oil drenched soft white bread crumb mixture and a hint of fresh basil. It was very slighltly heated, and totally rewarding.
Time still remained to join the many others to walk around a section of the great wall before returning to Pisa by train.