Thursday, July 12, 2007

Field of Miracles

Today, Thursday, the term “Slow travel Italy” was at the order of the day. This was the start of a vacation within a vacation. The plan was to enjoy a few less hectic days at the coast in the region of Liguria, Italy’s Riviera coast. We had no fix plans for the next 3 days except that we wanted to stop for a few hours in Pisa, spend some time visiting Cinque Terre and on Sunday we have to be on a train to Venice. One uncertainty in the next 3 days was that the coming Saturday was a national holiday in Italy, Republic Day, and we weren’t sure what was open for visiting and what trains or services were operating on a national holiday. Maybe we will go into Genoa for a day or maybe we will just cruise the coast line. Our base was to be an apartment on a small farm, an Agrituristica settlement, up in the mountains overlooking La Spezia and the Bay of Poets. It was kind of a nice not to follow a rigid timeline for a change. But our first stop before we left the Tuscany region was Pisa, an hour’s train ride west of Florence.

Arriving at Pisa we discovered there was a taxi strike in progress so we quickly had to figure out which bus to take to the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) or the Piazza del Duomo to visit the Baptistery, Cathedral of Pisa and the Campanile (the ‘Leaning Tower’) next door. The group of buildings (including the cemetery), is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1989 and are fine examples of the Pisan-Romanesque architectural style. After entering the site through a castle-like entrance, the white buildings contrast strikingly from the expanse of green grass that surrounds the buildings. We purchased entrance tickets for the Bapistery and the Duomo. The first availble timeslot to the tower was 2:00 PM and our scheduled train was to leave around that time so there was no time to go up the tower. The baptistery, which was begun in 1152 is very bare inside, but with incredible acoustics. The impressive acoustics were illustrated by a woman who sang some kind of hymn while we were inside. The Duomo, begun in 1064, is not as minimalist as the Duomo of Florence on the inside, but not as opulent as St. Peters. Unfortunately, many of the Duomo’s original medieval artwork were destroyed by a fire in 1595. Luckily some important works did survived. And then there is the Leaning Tower, a miracle that it actually still stands after its foundations began to sink shortly after building commenced. By the way, Pisa’s Leaning Tower is not the only leaning structure in the world. There are actually several. Click here to see a list of leaning structures in the world.

We caught the bus back to the train station, where I had to jump a long line (queue) at the luggage depot to get out luggage, no doubt angered some people in the line, but if I didn’t we would have missed our train to La Spezia. The closer we got to La Spezia the more overcast the sky got. Upon arrival we had a late lunch at McDonalds at the station before we took a taxi (luckily there was no strike in La Spezia) to our apartment in the mountains. Later the evening it started to rain and the weather forecast for the next two days predicted intermittent rain, not something we wished for while on holiday.

That evening we had a basic, but excellent dinner with the host of the agriturismo where we were staying. It was a simple dinner of Mediterranean salad and pasta (penne with a tomato and tuna sauce.) We finished it off with a bottle of DOC white wine produced on the premises and ended the evening with Espresso and Grappa. In my next post I will tell more about the agriturismo concept and about our specific farm, La Cicala.

Entrance/Exit of Pisa's Field of Miracles.

Pisa's Campo dei Miracoli. The Baptistery on the left, the Duomo in the middle and Campanile (The Leaning Tower) at the back.

Pisa's Baptistery is the largest in Italy. Look at the roof. It is half tile and half lead. The lead faces the seaside and the tiles the inland side.

The Duomo. Although the architecture is distinctive Pisan-Romanesque, the pointed arches reflects a Muslim or Byzantine influence. The Mosaics inside also points to a Byzantine influence.

The Duomo's ceiling. The original ceiling was destroyed in the the fire of 1595. This gilded ceiling was erected after the fire.

Inside the Duomo of Pisa. It is quite a lovely church, both inside and outside with a very impressive entrance door (not in use anymore) and in need of a clean up. Compare to many other churches in Italy, there is a lot of light inside the church.

The spectactular dome and mosaics of Pisa's Duomo.

The Duomo's Pulpit. This is a masterful piece of art. The detail on it is amazing. But get this. The pulpit must be about 12 feet high and about 10 feet in diameter (look again at the earlier picture of the Duomo's inside.) After the 1595 fire the pulpit, which survived the fire, was stored away while they were repairing and redecorating the Duomo. Then it was rediscovered in 1926 and re-erected inside the Duomo. How on earth do you lose something like this and then rediscover it 331 years later? Where did they store it that no one knew about it? On the other side of the earth? Didn't anyone miss it all this time? It must have been recorded that it once had a beautiful pulpit and whether it was destroyed in the fire ot not.

The Campanile or bell tower, more commonly known as the "Leaning Tower of Pisa".

Monica doing her best to hold the tower up, but to no avail.

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