Pisa and Bologna
Wednesday, June 30
The morning of Wednesday, June 30, in Pisa: Yet another clear, blue, sunny, and hot day. Perfect for our return to the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, where we would continue our exploration that we started the previous evening.
Old City Walls, Pisa
We found very cheap, decent street-side parking not far outside of the Piazza, then headed in. Where the previous evening had seen a few scattered people about, mid-morning on this sunny day saw large throngs of tourists everywhere. The three beautiful main structures of the Piazza (the tower, the duomo, and the baptistry), shone brilliantly white in the sun.
We visited the buildings bordering the piazza, seeking to get more information about what we could see. As it turns out, admission is required for each of the attractions in the square, with the tower (not surprisingly) being the most expensive. They offered a decent combo-price ticket for multiple attractions, so we went with that. Pu wanted to also see the Camposanto section of the square, so he purchased a different ticket package. We also decided to split up and see the various attractions at our own [different] paces.
First up (for Jenn and I) was the baptistry. Situated off by itself in the middle of the grass at one end of the piazza, it's really quite a neat-looking building. I liked the way it is perfectly round in plan, together with a rounded top. It's not a building shape you often see. The style of the exterior marble facing is also attractive, being finished in a very tuscan-specific Romanesque/Gothic kind of way - solid and plainer-looking blind arcades down below, more gothic-like ornate marble-work higher up with lots of intricate detail and delicate columns and such. The baptistry was completed in 1363 - so it's quite an old structure. It's also the largest baptistry in all of Italy.
Jenn and I visited the interior of the baptistry, which is a little bit drab compared to the exterior (for example, there's no fresco at all on the ceiling dome), but still nice. And there's a superb view from the second level windows out towards the duomo. The acoustics of the interior are apparently quite interesting: [from wikipedia]: 'One may stand below the edge of the dome and sing a sustained note for several seconds, and the sound will travel around and around the dome for many more seconds. In this way it is possible to sing musical chords by oneself, simply by changing the tone every several seconds.'. Unfortunately, we didn't get to hear a sample of this single-voice polyphonic capability - maybe next time.
Next up on our visit list was the Duomo (Cathedral). It's the oldest structure in the piazza, dating from the 1000s, and is really quite an interesting place. Compared to all of the Roman antiquity, renaissance, and baroque stuff we had seen in Rome recently, this was quite different. Slotting in between the aforementioned styles, here there was much evidence of the medieval: a bit of gothic-ness here, a bit of romanesque-ness there, and some byzantine-ness thrown in for good measure!
The first thing I enjoyed about the interior was the guilded ceiling, brightly-gold colored and stretching down much of the main nave of the church. Apparently this isn't the original ceiling of the church, though, having been fixed-up after a late 1500s fire.
Another item that caught my eye in the church was the fantastically sculpted pulpit. It is a structure about 10-15 feet high (3 or 4 metres or so), round, with steps leading up and a railing all around. Among other things, church congregationers read readings out of the bible during mass from this pulpit. It is a fantastic construction of sculpted marble - almost every inch of it has fantastical writhings and twistings of various scenes from christian history. It's quite a piece of medieval artwork!
The final thing that really struck me about this church was the huge mosaic in the apse of the church. It is a very-obviously byzantine-styled Christ in Majesty mosaic. Very beautiful and very distinctly different to all of the other art we'd seen so far on this trip.
Tomb of Cardinal Scipionis
After wandering around the interior of the Duomo a bit more, it was time to head out to the highlight of our visit, the climb to the top of the leaning tower. We had a specific time-slot for this particular activity, so we had to show up at the base of the tower at the right time. Jenn had to quickly duck out and add some extra time to our parking meter, and Pu hadn't arrived yet, so I plunked myself down in the shadow of the tower and waited for both of them to show up. And shaded my eyes (even with sunglasses) from the brightness - the white marble all around in the mid-day sun was blinding!
We had a little scare when we presented ourselves to the line for entry into the tower. The assistant at the gate was adamant that my chest-mounted camera bag was too big to allow passage up the tower - which seemed a little ridiculous, since there were people going up whose girth was obviously greater than mine in combination with my bag. Anyhow, there was no arguing with this guy, so we had to quickly run to the storage lockers in a nearby building to drop off the bags (Pu also had to do the same), then run back. Turns out there was no rush, though - ticketholders for a particular timeslot aren't obliged to present themselves right at the beginning of that timeslot.
Climbing up the tower was pretty cool. You really feel the tilt as you climbed the very-narrow staircase embedded into the outer wall of the tower - the change in the gradient and tilt as you go 'round and 'round, higher, and higher, is a little disconcerting at first, too - especially on the low side where you look out the windows and sense a little bit of precariousness at 'hanging out' over air.
At the top, things open out into a surprisingly airy (as in, slightly exposed) ledge. Attendants gently shepherded us further upwards past the bells of the tower, and up a final flight of stairs to the very top ring of the tower, where there are two metal railings protecting you from falling into the center or off the edge of the tower. It's somewhat remarkable that they've left all of this as open as it is (a refreshingly-nice kind of remarkable, actually, given the paranoia of our current age).
Spiral Staircase, Leaning Tower
There are great, unobstructed views of all of Pisa all around, and especially the view down to the duomo is nice. Unfortunately, in the mad dash to lock away my camera bag, I failed to choose to bring my wide-angle lens. I therefore wasn't able to capture a few wide-angle shots that would have better expressed the experience of being up on the tower.
Interactive Trackmap, Pisa Walk Number 2
With the completion of our tour of the Leaning Tower, we were finished our tour of this famous piazza. A most enjoyable morning, we all agreed. I've noticed that some reviews of this piazza are somewhat disparaging, and I have to say, now that I've visited, that I completely disagree with them. The tower, the baptistry, and the duomo -- and in fact the entire Piazza -- is an outstanding snapshot of medieval Italian history. I'm not at all surprised that the entire place is a Unesco World Heritage site