Pisa has been a nice surprise. We arrived obviously expecting the Tower and the tourists that go with such an iconic site but Pisa itself is a nice, and strangely ‘untouristy’, town. I have only found the Tourist Office open on one occasion! I had sort of expected endless souvenir shops and the like but even in the proximity to the tower there remarkably few. Away from the Tower the town is busy without being too busy, there is a University here and so there are hundreds of students, but tourists don’t seem to stray too far from the Tower. There is a nice normal, local feel to the place. It is off season obviously but walking through town is very pleasant.
It is about 14km from Porto di Pisa and there is a bus stop right outside the port. On our first try with the bus we were given the impression that it was a rather unreliable service; however, we have since discovered it to be the opposite, and for 2 euros per ticket it is well worth it. The bus drops you off close to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele which is built in a large gap in the old southern wall of the city and from there it is a short walk north along the pedestrianised shopping street, Corso Italia, to the river.
The roads along the banks of the river are not pedestrianised but once over the bridge and into Pizza Garibaldi the streets are. The buildings are all old and the streets follow the original medieval ‘plan’; they are a fantastic random patchwork of streets and alleyways of no regular width or direction, although finding your way is not too difficult.
Wandering through the streets towards the Cathedral you come across the Piazza dei Cavalieri, an enormous, wide open piazza in the centre of the city north of the river surrounded by some magnificent buildings; these include the Scuola Normale Superiore and the Church of San Stefano dei Cavalieri; and for a change the piazza is big enough to allow you to stand far enough away from the buildings to actually appreciate them! The Scuola is really impressive, the entire frontage being covered in frescos.
The Cathedral site, the Piazza dei Miracoli, is hardly visible until you are almost there and then the tower appears above the tops of the houses. The Tower was the bell tower for the Cathedral which is built alongside the north east corner of the old city wall, a significant run of which is still standing. The three most magnificent buildings are the Baptistry, the Cathedral and the Tower, all surrounded by wide lawns, footpaths and hordes of people posing for ‘that’ Tower of Pisa photo. It is comical to see their antics and I should imagine that in the summer it becomes quite manic!
The Tower is a magnificent building, quiet apart from its dispute with the laws of physics and is obviously an integral part of the larger cathedral site. Construction of the Tower was started in 1173and they reached the 2nd floor before it started to settle, apparently the 3 m foundations were never going to be deep enough. Over the following 200 hundred years they kept on building and the Tower continued to lean and it is in fact slightly curved as the builders tried to straighten it as they went. In the late 1990s 70 tonnes of soil was removed from under the high side, which reduced and stabilised the lean. It is now a modest 4 degrees. It is possible to climb the tower, but the 18 euro fee and 45 minute wait was a disincentive. To visit the museum, the Baptistry and the Cathedral was a more reasonable 8 euros with no queue.
Mind you the Tower isn’t the only building with a problem with levels. The south wall of the Cathedral shows some interesting ones as well.
The Baptistry and Cathedral are both impressive buildings but I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that for us, Finalborgo is to churches what ‘Las Fallas’ in Valencia is to Fireworks.
Pisa is well worth visiting, and not just for the Tower.
Our stop over in Pisa is slightly longer than anticipated as Valeria had to return to the UK for a week and predictably for those days the weather was bright and settled and perfect for a crossing to Corsica; unfortunately these conditions begin to change as her return approaches with some rather brisk winds forecast for the end of next week. We are headed for southern Corsica and Sardinia and need to negotiate the Straits of Bonaficio; the wind is funnelled between the islands here and increases in speed noticeably and makes the Straits a place to avoid. So I am back to scouring the weather forecasts for another ‘weather window’!