Pisa, home of the famous Leaning Tower, is more or less one hour by car from Florence. That makes it a very attractive destination for a one-day trip. If you also want to know something else about Leonardo da Vinci, you should go to the Leonardo Museum that we talked about in the last post.
If you haven’t been to Pisa yet, maybe you’ll find a good surprise. Thinking about Pisa is thinking about its famous Leaning Tower. However Piazza dei Miracoli, where the tower is, holds another three amazing monuments: St. John’s Baptistery, the cathedral and the Camposanto Monumentale.The vision of the complex is spectacular.
Cathedral of Santa Maria
The catedral was founded in 1064 and it was enshrined in 1118. It has a basilical shape with five naves and a dome above the transept. The building was ended in the last quarter of XII century, when the bronze gates of Bonanno were placed. They were lost after a fire of 1595, and after that a great decorative program was started.
The façade is made of white marble with grey lists, with archs over columns and several Arabic details, and the laterals include reused materials from the Roman age buildings. You can see further decorative details, like an Islamic bronze griffin at the top of the roof and some other Eastern elements, like the elliptic base of the dome.
On the inside the central nave is delimited by two rows of monolithic columns made of granite from Isola d’Elba, and it’s flanked by four little naves and covered by a wooden roof. You can see some works of great artistic value from the Middle Age until XIX century. The pulpit from Giovanni Pisano is a source of pride for the cathedral.
Battistero di San Giovanni
This is the biggest baptistery of Italy. It has a circumference of more than 107 m and it’s almost 55 m high. The construction began in the middle of XII century and it wasn’t finished until two centuries later. This is why the base has a romanic style and the upper side is gothic.
This is an ecclesiastical work which aim was to give a right complement to the Duomo, according to its position and characteristics. Every family in the city participated in the building process with monthly contributions, after a royal order.
The great external cilinder is formed by archs over columns of white marble with grey lists (just like the outside of the cathedral) and it’s crowned by a double dome. On the inside we can see eight columns that compite in height with the columns in the cathedral. There is also an octagonal baptismal font from Guido da Como and the pulpit from Nicola Pisano.
You can climb to the first floor through narrow steps. The façade of the cathedral can be seen through the windows of the East area. Both buildings are perfectly aligned. Another detail of the architecture: the tiles that cover the domes are red on the West side and made of plumb on the East side.
Funny tip: the particular structure of the domes of the baptistery offers outstanding acoustic conditions. You can notice it every 30 minutes if you listen to the vocal intonations of the security personnel.
Camposanto Monumentale, also known as Camposanto Vecchio is the last of the monuments in this square and maybe the less attractive from the outside. The building process began in the second half of XIII century and lasted until XIV century.
The inner walls are decorated with fresco paintings from different artists and they also include a sequence dedicated to the Triumph of Death, and another one of 26 huge mural paintings with the stories of the Old and New Testament. In every corridor you can see a great number of tombs from the classic age.
Here is the tomb of Leonardo Pisano, also known as Fibonacci, a mathematician from XII century who is famous for spreading in Western world the scientific knowledge of the Arabic world. The famous series of Fibonacci that appear in several books and films like “The Da Vinci Code” are among this acquaintance.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually the bell tower of the cathedral, and it’s the most famous monument in the city without a doubt. It’s 55 m high and the diameter is 20 m. The inclination is more than 5,5º from the vertical.
It was inaugurated in 1173 but the architect who designed the project remains unknown (unlike the rest of the monuments in this square). Maybe it’s just that nobody wants to point out to the guilty of the sloping of the tower, because of the poor quality of the ground where it’s build upon.
Because of the progressive leaning of the tower it remained closed to the public for 12 years (1990-2002). In those years it was straightened 40 cm and the foundations were reinforced.
Apart from the obvious oddity of the sloping, there are two more details that make this belfry a unique piece in the world: the position and the square plant. Normally the bell towers of this age are close to the façade or at one side of the cathedral. Maybe these particular facts are due to other functions, like for being used as a lighthouse or as a watchtower for the city.
The visit to the tower has a separated entrance and the capacity is very limited, so it’s necessary to make a big queue. The spiral staircase with 293 steps leads you until the sixth floor, where you have a spectacular panoramic view of Piazza dei Miracoli and the monuments.
– 10,50 €. It’s a combined ticket for the monuments in Piazza dei Miracoli, apart from the Leaning Tower.
– 15 €, climbing to the top of the Leaning Tower (campanile, torre pendente)
– Cathedral (duomo): winter from 10 to 12.45 and from 15 to 16.30 on working days. Spring and autumn from 10 to 17.30 on working days and from 13 to 17.30 Sundays and holidays. Summer from 10 to 19.30 on working days and from 13 to 19.30 on Sundays and holidays.
– Baptistery: Winter from 9 to 16.30; spring from 9 to 17.30; summer from 8 to 19.30.
– Camposanto: Winter from 9 to 16:30; spring from 9 to 17.30; summer from 8 to 19.30.
– Leaning Tower: Winter from 9 to 17; summer from 8 to 20 (visits each half hour for groups of less than 40 people).
Adress: Piazza dei Miracoli
GPS coordinates: 43.722779, 10.395254
More information (English and Italian): Pisa Tourism
If you wish to know more about this región you can visit Lucca shore or Marina di Carrara. We wanted to see these places in our way back to Florence, but the weather wasn’t good at all and the night fell very soon because it was winter, so we changed our mind.