Sunday, June 9, 2019

May 19 - Pisa / Florence

May 2019 - Pisa Italy

Since it looked like another rainy day we decided, on impulse, to use today as our visit to Pisa. We may as well spend a couple of hours on a train. Tickets were bought on online, $10 each for round trip, an hour each way.

We left from the Santa Maria Novella station.

Walking from the train. Dull but not raining.

I knew nothing about Pisa, other than the Leaning Tower. And I assumed that was some tacky tourist destination. I was wrong.

One day is Pisa is plenty, and you can walk from the train station to the Tower in thirty minutes easily.

These smelled gorgeous.

Sunday, so most stores and many restaurants were closed.

Lots of souvenir shops.

Crossing the Arno (same river as Florence) and there is a hint of blue in the sky!

After lunch in a local place, that was packed with Pisanos, yes, that is what people from Pisa are called!

Lots of blue and warm.

Just a few streets west of the main route from the station to the tower, many tourists miss this Piazza. Were it not for the tower, this would most likely be the highlight of the city.

Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights' Square) used to be piazza delle Sette Vie, the political centre of Pisa and likely the site of the Roman Forum: it was later transformed into the centre of the Order of the Knights of Santo Stefano by Cosimo I de’ Medici, created to defend the Tuscan and Mediterranean coast from Turkish fleets and pirates.

San Rocco

In the centre of the piazza there is a statue of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, sculpted by Francavilla in 1596. Behind him is Palazzo della Carovana, the former Palazzo Degli Anziano del Popolo which was transformed by Giorgio Vasari into its current appearance and whose façade was completely covered over time by graffiti, drawings and busts of the Medici as they succeeded one another as the Grand Dukes of Tuscany.

Currently it is the home of the Scuola Normale Superiore, commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to be based on the model of the Ecole in Paris. The greatest Italian professors studied here, like Antonio Pacinotti, Carducci, Pascoli, Fermi and Rubbia.

Sculpted from white Ferrara marble, it is dedicated to the father of Ferdinando I, Cosimo I who was the first Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen. Cosimo is sculpted standing on an high pedestal, wearing the robe of Order's Grand Master, and in the act of subduing a dolphin, symbol of his domination over the seas.

Thought it was a duck!

First sighting!! Yes, I get excited! But little did I know what was coming.

The Campo dei Miracoli the Square of Miracles in English, was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. The square is not located right smack in the center of the city as you might imagine but along the north western edge along the city's fortified wall, almost out of the center. This is where space was available back in 1094 when construction was first started on the cathedral.

Since the times of the Etruscans, the three structures found in the piazza have been considered central to religious life, symbolizing the main stages of a human life: the Baptistery represents birth, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta life and the Camposanto, of course, alludes to death.

What about the Tower of Pisa? Well, we haven’t forgotten it but the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually considered a part of the cathedral since it is really its bell tower.

The construction of the Tower of Pisa dates back to 1173. It fame is owed to its inclination, caused by the shifting ground in the subsoil and for this reason works were often interrupted throughout its construction. In 1275, the tower was enlarged with the addition of three levels while the belfry was added only in 1350. The Leaning Tower is 55 meters high and is inclined 5° southward.

You can't miss The Fallen Angel steps from the tower. Igor Mitoraj is a Polish artist that make sculptures in post-modern style.

We bought a ticket for the three main buildings, excluding the Tower.

Look at the people!

As in most cities, the square was called Piazza del Duomo until Italian writer and poet Gabriele d'Annunzio described the square as the "prato dei Miracoli," or "meadow of miracles" in his novel Forse che sì forse che no (1910). The square is now simply known as the Campo dei Miracoli, which is literally the "Field of Miracles".

The Square first started taking shape in 1064 with the creation of the centerpiece of the entire complex: the Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. The cathedral symbolizes the maximum expression of Pisan Romanesque architecture influenced at the same time by various stylistic elements. At the time, Pisa was a Maritime Republic (from the 11th through 15th centuries), and sailors travelled around the Arab world and remained smitten by all the beautiful things they saw.


Years later the enlargement of the fortified wall began (the church at the beginning wasn’t inside the walls) and the building of the baptistery began only in 1152. The baptistery was located directly in front of the Cathedral with a diameter equal to the facade of the cathedral. About 20 years later, work started on the bell tower which is now known simply as the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.


The Graveyard or Camposanto is an ancient monumental cemetery set on the north side of the Square of Miracles. Begun in 1277 by the architect Giovanni de Simone, it is a rectangular structure with an inner cloister with Gothic arcades. 

As ancient tradition would have it, the graveyard was built on dirt carried back from the Holy Land, in particular from the place where Jesus was crucified. 

The cemetery is a huge, oblong structure and a beautiful specimen of Gothic architecture. It has been designed with 43 blind arches in the outer wall, which make it a sight to behold!

Within the cloister you’ll find many sarcophagi and Roman graves, used exclusively for the burial of prestigious men, while beneath the floor are graves of the nobles of Pisa. Here you can admire a lot of artworks including: the Pulpit by Giovanni Pisano, the Lamp by Galileo Galilei, frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli and Buonamico Buffalmacco with the famous Triumph of Death, a tabernacle by the Della Robbia and many more.

Time to stroll back to the train station.

Train station.

Back in Florence.

We went looking for our hotel from 2004.


  1. You spent a few hours at Pisa as did we. You seemed to learn an awful lot about the town, far more than we did. We did see the square, and paid for tickets for the three buildings but ran out of time to use them. We did get a little lost in the backstreets, which was kind of ok except someone's partner became worried we were really lost. We didn't have internet and I didn't think to download a map in advance.


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