Monday, December 9, 2013

Pisa, Italy

The trip to Pisa was the surprise of this trip. With Go Ahead Tours you have the choice to select some extra excursions. They range from about $30 to $100 per person and usually take a good part of the day. If you choose not to go then you have a free day at your location. We usually do a couple of the excursions but pass on some of them. We almost passed on this one but one of my friends told me to trust her and GO. We wouldn't regret it. She was SO right!
 We arrived to find these really high stone castle walls and a gauntlet of vendors who were selling everything from Pisa souvenirs to knock offs of purses and jackets. There are perfume spray girls who have nothing on these guys when it comes to pushing merchandise. I was beginning to think we'd made a huge mistake when we came to the archway that leads into Pisa.
 And then I came to a standstill and just gaped. Those who know me know I shoot first and admire after. This is one of those times where I just couldn't believe what I was seeing and almost forgot to take a photo of it from that vantage! 
 I had done some research on Pisa and really only came up with info on the Tower so I had no clue that there were actually four buildings there! The problem was that I didn't know about The Field of Miracles, where all four buildings sit upon...I only knew about the Tower. I was searching on the wrong thing!
 What we were to learn over the next few hours was fascinating. The buildings are actually made up of recycled Roman ruins that have been pieced together. So what, at first glance, just looks like beautiful buildings becomes much more interesting as you actually study the buildings and how those puzzle pieces fit together. 
The columns were exquisite with the marble carved into intricate designs.
But they were not all the same. Two different columns carved in a similar fashion were placed in the same doorway and it wasn't until you looked closer that you realized they were very different.

For instance, along the main wall of the Cathedral is this block with carved lettering. Just a puzzle piece that fit in that particular place.
 The carving was simply beautiful. We spent a good deal of our time outside of the buildings looking at all of the details like this Madonna and child.
 The four buildings are the Cathedral, The Baptistry, The Tower and the building that this carving topped which was the entrance to the Monumental Cemetery.

 When you stopped to really study the buildings is when you became really impressed at how the pieces all fit together and how they were able to match the blocks so that they coordinated perfectly with the other blocks. As you can see, the two arches, while similar, are actually quite different.
 The only big difference that really sticks out is the roof of the Baptistry. One half of the dome is of one material and one half a very different material because they didn't have enough of either material to complete the dome! 
 As you can see, they loved their statues! When designing the way the pieces would fit together they made sure that there were as many carved faces and statues as possible on each and very building.
I simply loved this one because it fit but didn't seem to fit all at the same time! What sense does it make for a ram to be charging out of the side of a Cathedral?
 But we finally did make it to the inside of the Cathedral and Baptistry and were not disappointed there either! Striped arches dominated inside along with the cream colored marble. Wall sized pieces of fine art adorned the walls and it was all topped by the Medici ceiling of pure gold and cobalt.
A great example of the art is this piece. The circular top of the piece was carved from one piece of marble. Simply amazing!
 The Cathedral was beautiful. A return trip to Pisa would include a lot more time inside of it to examine every corner. 
 The Baptistry was the highlight of this tour. Beautiful in it's own right, the Baptistry holds a secret.
 As we stood admiring the high arches, the carved marble and overall beauty of the building we were told to be quiet for a demonstration. A young man walked into the very center of the room and began to sing 6 notes slowly. As each one echoed around the arched room we suddenly realized that they were transformed into the sound of ringing bells! We watched and listened with rapt attention, completely fascinated by this phenomena!
 Lest you think we forgot all about the Tower, we didn't. It just really wasn't as interesting as the rest of the buildings. The most interesting part is learning that it was built in three sections over almost 200 years! Built on a wetland, all of the buildings are leaning or sinking but the first sections of the Tower were so heavy it started leaning to one side almost immediately. The second architect to take it on thought he had the answer and made the walls on the non-leaning side thicker and heavier than the walls on the leaning side. This helped correct the lean a bit but didn't stop it. The final architect said that the best that could be done was to build just enough sections so they could see the sea, since the Tower was a look out for protection of the city, out of very thin marble. For awhile it looked like he was right and the Tower stopped leaning. But then it started again. It wasn't until the 1980's that engineers were able to figure out a way to stop the leaning progression. They couldn't totally correct the angle of the leaning but they did stabilize it. 
The bell tower had seven bells installed over several decades in the last section of the Tower, the last one installed in 1606.
There are 296 steps to the top of the tower and it cost $14 Euros to take that tour. We decided to spend our time exploring the other buildings instead but if I were to return to Pisa I would definitely take the trip up to the top for the view!
The Field of Miracles and the Leaning Tower of Pisa are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Pisa. It's like seeing the Eiffel Tower and not seeing the rest of Paris! So if you get a chance to wander the streets, stay in a little hotel on the river, enjoy the ambiance of the world within the gates then go for it! It's Amazing!

Next week we'll head off to Milan! Hope you can join us back here for that. In the meantime you can always find me on Instagram. Just follow shutterbugtraveler there!


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