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Pisa

PERUSING PISA
In many ways, Pisa is every bit as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa, another stunning Italian creation. The place owes it’s latter day fame almost solely to an architectural project that went disastrously wrong; the construction of the Bell Tower, which became notorious as the ‘Leaning Tower’ we all know today.
The Bell Tower is actually one of a trio of Romanesque style masterpieces that loom over the so called ‘Field of Miracles’. Pisa was once a maritime power that rivalled Venice, and the authorities decided that they wanted to create a showplace to compete with St. Mark’s square. This was the genesis of the Pisa project.
Work on the Bell Tower started in 1173, but the whole building began to tilt in the soft sand about a decade later. Today, the soaring white marble structure looks like the tiers of a sagging wedding cake, and it sheers around fifteen degrees from the vertical. The good news is that is now finally stabilised and- as of now- visitors can once again make the climb to the top.

The Cathedral traces it’s genesis back to 1064, and at one time it was the largest of it’s kind in Europe. It was paid for with the booty ransacked from an attacking Arab fleet. An elliptical dome- the first of it’s kind in Europe- was added in 1380. Again, the Romanesque edifice is sheathed in vast amounts of cool, clean marble. It looks incredible in the sparkling Italian summers. At one time, this was the largest cathedral on mainland Europe.
Rounding out the trio is the classical, circular Baptistry. Work began on this in the middle of the twelfth century. The plain, quite stark interior has marvellous acoustics, and makes for a great contrast with the ornate, overly fussed exterior, again clad in trademark marble.

There is also a beautiful, haunting cemetery, enclosed within low , white walls, where many of Pisa’s prominent and wealthy citizens were buried. Heavily damaged during the war, it has now been largely restored.
The cumulative effect of this extraordinary trio of buildings is quite overwhelming, and well worth a few hours of anybody’s life. I definitely recommend a minimum of two hours to really see the sights in depth. The entire complex is a stunning exclamation mark in the history of medieval Europe; one truly worthy of your attention.

Getting there: Trains run hourly from Livorno main station to Pisa. The journey is around fifteen minutes, and costs around two euros. A half hourly bus service takes around forty-five minutes, and costs around three euros.

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