Pisa might be one of those cities in the world where you can always find plenty of visitors, especially in summer. We have already told you that we are not quite enthusiast about those highly touristic places, but we also think that if everyone wants to visit a city, it must be a good reason for it. Pisa is a common destination for student groups, but nor Dídac or me, at our age, had ever visited this Italian hotspot until last summer. Pisa entered into our plans when we saw cheap flights from Girona’s airport that perfectly suited some additional vacation days. And thus we decided to buy them and stay in Pisa for two nights before moving to Firenze. The first day was devoted to Pisa, the second one we had the opportunity to briefly explore the Tuscany region by car.
We booked our accommodation in Grand Hotel Duomo, a classical Italian hotel that offers a terrace with amazing views of the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). It seemed that it had a reasonable price taking into account the location (immediately next to the square), the cruise season (we visited the city at the end of August) and that a continental breakfast was included. We imagine that many people stay in Pisa only for the day or half a day and thus do not sleep in the city, but in our opinion Pisa is also a nice place to enjoy with a quiet walk by the Arno river, far from the crowds.
The first time we saw the Piazza we had just arrived to the city centre and were carrying our luggage with us. A feeling of excitement and amazement got into my body and I thought: well, this place would still be magical even if the tower was not tilted. In fact, the square is considered a World Heritatge Site as from 1987. So many magnificent buildings appeared from the grass of that world-famous square, named by the writer and poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, who in 1910 described the square in this way: “The Ardea rotated over the sky of Christ, over the meadow of Miracles”. He couldn’t have summarized the charm of that location in a better manner.
We had booked our visit to the leaning tower (€18) on the afternoon (just to be sure we could do it at a suitable time) and we were hungry so we established in the hotel and later explored Via Santa Maria while looking for pizza. After lunch we got back to the Piazza and visited the Duomo (free entrance), built in the XI century in the Romanesque style, where we felt in love with the alternating layers of black and white marble.
It seems that the queen of all Italian cities is the Duomo, but we think that the real jewels of the Piazza dei Miracoli (apart from the tower, of course) are the Baptistery and the Camposanto (€7 both). The marble Baptistery is the second building, in chronological order, in the Piazza, and it was constructed in the transition from the Romanesque style to the Gothic one. Camposanto, in its turn, was the last building there. Initially the idea was to construct a church (and not a cemetery) around sacred dirt brought back from Golgotha during the Crusades. But plans changed and nowadays we can find a cloister surrounded by columns, frescoes and funerary monuments: the atmosphere is really impressive.
And, finally, the time to reach the top of the unintended leaning tower arrived. An inadequate foundation on ground (too soft on one side) has turned Pisa’s bell tower (the third oldest building in the Piazza) in an Italian emblem. We joined our group and after a brief explanation on the tilt of the tower we started to climb each of the almost 300 worn marble steps located inside the tower. From the top, the views were stunning.
After our visit to the leaning tower, it was time to explore what Pisa has to offer far from the touristic centre. We walked towards the Piazza dei Cavalieri, the political centre in medieval Pisa, and then reached Piazza delle Vettovaglie, where the local market takes place every morning. But I must confess that my obsession was in the opposite bank of the Arno river: the church of Santa Maria della Spina (“of the thorn”), erected around 1230 in the Pisan Gothic style and later enlarged. Its name comes from the presence of a thorn, allegedly part of the crown of thorns placed on Christ during his Passion and Crucifixion. The relic was brought to the church in 1333. In 1871 the church was dismantled and rebuilt on a higher level to solve the dangerous infiltration of water.