Before embarking on a sea voyage to Spain for the final leg of our trip, we made a quick stop in Pisa. The city is located in the Tuscany region of Italy and is one of Italy’s most visited cities. The most famous tourist attraction is the Torre Pendente, or Leaning Tower, but Pisa is a place that offers plenty of treasures that will certainly captivate its visitors.
SIGHTS TO SEE
1. THE LEANING TOWER
Everyone knows that Pisa is best known for its iconic Leaning Tower, which is generally the main reason why people plan a visit. This striking tower resides in the Piazza dei Miracoli, one of the most beautiful squares in Italy! Constructed in the 12th century following the Pisa Cathedral, the foundations were declared unstable and the building began to lean. Hence, the tower was already tilted upon completion in 1372 and it continues to lean to this day. Nevertheless, several measures have been taken to ensure it never collapses and remains a historic structure that is appreciated worldwide.
After posing for several stereotypical tourist photos in which our group tried to hold up the massive structure with our hands, we climbed to the very top of the bell tower. The stairway is made of almost 300 winding marble stairs that seem to go on forever. I know what you may be asking yourself because I was thinking the same thing at first: yes, it is most certainly worth the burning calves. You do not want to pass up such an awe-inspiring view because when you reach the final step, I promise you will forget all about how out of breath you are. From the very top of the tower, I admired a breathtaking–and somewhat tilted–view of the entire city of Pisa, the Arno river, and the surrounding mountains. Aside from taking funny photos, the architecture of the tower is truly fantastic and the six rows of stone arches that adorn the exterior are simply beautiful.
2. THE CATHEDRAL OF STANA MARIA ASSUNTA
The Piazza dei Miracoli, or Square of Miracles, is located along the northwestern edge of the city’s fortified wall. The Piazza is also home to one of the most ornate cathedrals in Italy, the Duomo di Pisa. The church was constructed in 1064 to celebrate the prosperity of Pisa, a powerful maritime Republic at the time. The Duomo is now referred to as the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta as it was dedicated to her. In more ways than one, I found it to be the most impressive Cathedral in Italy because although extravagant, it is evidence of the riches owned by the Republic of Pisa. The best part is that entry into the Cathedral is free!
The entirety of the church is made of white marble, a perfect example of Roman-Pisan Gothic architecture. The inside is scattered with many famous works of art, among which is the pulpit by Giovanni Pisano, considered one of the most significant works of Italian Gothic art. The duomo’s architecture is substantial and gorgeous–it was the biggest in Europe when it was first built. The contrast of colors between its white facade and the surrounding green grass is a glorious sight to behold. Upon completion, the cathedral became a splendid place of worship for all! There is no denying that its location outside the city walls was strategically chosen to demonstrate the power and success of Pisa to the rest of the world.
3. THE BAPTISTERY OF ST. JOHN
The Baptistery of St. John was built in front of the Cathedral and is also known for its Romanesque style. With its stacked domes, elaborate tracery, and the gilded bronze of John the Baptist at its peak, the Baptistery is one of Pisa’s more unique structures. The dome is unusual in that the side that faces the sea is finished in red tiles that glow at sunset while the other half is covered in lead plating, a design that is intended to catch the rays of the rising sun. Dedicated to St. John the Baptist, it is, in fact, the biggest baptistery in Italy and has always played an important part in the religious life of the Piazza dei Miracoli’s monuments.
The construction of the Baptistery began in 1153 and was finished in the 14th century when Gothic components were added to its composition. Apart from its very photogenic exterior–the octagonal baptismal font accredited to Guido Bigarelli da Como–is the focal point of the interior! In the font’s center is bronze artwork of St. John the Baptist, sculpted by Italo Griselli. The font sits on three steps which represent The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. For many centuries, this is where babies were welcomed into Roman Catholic life. Many legends claim that Galileo Galilei used the Leaning Tower and the Duomo for several of his scientific experiments and was also baptized inside the Baptistry.
Additionally, inside there are 12 columns that constitute the 12 apostles and a hexagonal marble platform with classical sculptures carved by Nicola Pisano. However, the baptistery’s most notable feature is arguably the outstanding acoustics inside the glorious cylinder of the Baptistery. Before leaving, you must visit the Upper Gallery and try out the remarkable acoustics for yourself! When notes are sung, they appear to echo around the upper chambers as whole chords. The sounds you will hear as a result are very magical and pleasing to the ear. I will also let you in on a little secret: the Upper Gallery is one of the greatest places in Pisa to take pictures of the Leaning Tower!
Although my time in Pisa was short, it was so incredibly sweet. Although it is touristy and can grow very crowded, if you are planning a trip to Italy and debating if you should visit Pisa, the answer is yes. Pisa is charming in that the square is lined with beautiful architectural masterpieces to swoon over and photograph. If nothing else, walking around the Pisa city center will urge you to notice the value in appreciating the many enchanting sights before you.