For 5 whole hours!
Pisa was just a stepping stone for us on the way to Cinque Terre. After reading a few guidebooks and blog posts on the subject…
I decided to only spend a few hours in the city.
You can find out more about my thoughts on that decision here.
In advance, we purchased a ticket that would allow us access to the major sites on the Piazza dei Miracoli (the Square of Miracles) – the cathedral, the baptistery, the crypt, and (of course) the LEANING TOWER.
It was a good 15min walk to the square from the train station, made all the worse by the weight of a small child I carried on my shoulders. I call him Kathmandu. We made a quick detour on our way, as Hendy had read there was a Keith Herring mural down some random back street of Pisa. Quite fitting given the exhibition we saw a few weeks ago in Vienna.
It made me realise that it was all well and good to marvel at his work in a gallery, but Keith Herring really belonged on the street. The largeness of streetart can’t really be replicated in the limited space of the gallery.
You knew you were on the right track back to the tower because of the tourists. We wandered down a street to the south side of the square full of restaurants, waitstaff trying to entice us in. Then the plaza just opened up before us and there it was. The great Leaning Tower™, surrounded in people acting like ninjas.
The complex has undergone recent renovations, so the building almost glows white. We had pre-booked our climb up the tower – because it’s so narrow they take a limited number of people at a time – and we had a few hours before it, so we roamed the rest of the buildings on campus.
Our first stop was the Baptistery of St John, the large circular building to the west. After spending time in the garish Florentine cathedrals, there is a beautiful simplicity to this building. It’s a large open space, tiled white and lined with Romanesque columns. You walk up the steps to a second floor and can catch a beautiful view of the church and the tower.
We then had a brief excursion past the ancient city wall, through the kitsch tourist market on the hunt for some gelato. It was a necessary armourment in the fight against the scorching 30 degree heat. There we found Gelato Artigianale, an unassuming and empty little gelato place where I had some of the nicest chocolate gelato I had ever had. I also chatted to the nice lady behind the counter while Hendy hunted for some cash. Apparently this was not the hottest Pisa got – last year in August it was hitting 40 degrees most weeks.
Note to self – avoid Italy in August.
By the time we reached the doors of the Composanto Monumentale (monumental cemetery) our ice creams were finished. Which was good, because I wasn’t going to walk over a 1000 year old sacred site stuffing my face.
Walking into this building was one of those beautiful moments when you’re not quite sure what to expect, but what you received would’ve trumped any expectations anyway. It was a roman hall built for giants. The building is a square, with an open grassy courtyard in the centre. The wall around the courtyard is just lined with roman column, open to the elements, letting in streams of air and light. On the other side historians have uncovered the original art, broken up with statues and ancient grave stones.
It was so incredibly peaceful. I could have spent hours sitting on the grass, framed in columns and rose bushes, enjoying the hushed voices and echoing footsteps. My absolute favourite spot. It’s only a few extra euro to enter and 110% worth every penny.
We had a rest on the grass in the shadow of the baptistery before walking into the Pisa Cathedral (or, if you want to be accurate, the Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale Di Santa Maria Assunta). Like any of the catholic cathedrals, there is a strict dress code to adhere to if you wish to enter which is always difficult to achieve in weather that’s trying to bake you to the pavement.The cathedral was more reminiscent of what we had come to expect from the Italian Catholics. Spectacular coffered high-vaulted ceiling, carved marble pulpits, elaborate tiled floor, works of art etc. It was beautiful. Thanks to my filthy heathen sensibilities, I will never fully understand it, but even a fool can see these churches are astounding works of art.Finally, it was time to stand in line at the Leaning Tower. We dropped our bags off at the check in (they won’t even allow handbags in) before trying to walk up the steps.
Try being the operative word there. The tower really is on a lean. You feel drunk walking up it, made worse by the worn and uneven steps. It’s quite an entertaining experience it itself, even though falling over in it will likely break your neck. I just kept making earthquake jokes about shoddy foundations and wall verticalities.
Christchurch has ruined me.
There are a few stops you can make, but of course we went up to the very top. If you get claustrophobic, it’s a bloody tight squeeze. But you’ll be awarded with a view of the black and white tips of the cathedral, and the beautiful red roofs Europe is of so famous for.
And, you know, it’s a bell tower. Walking up them is just a thing you do in Europe.
Sadly, that was all the time we had, so we headed back to the train station. Where we promptly missed our stop and had to turn back. But that’s a story for another time.