The Leaning Tower. 12/18/18

Amazingly we have never been to Pisa. For years we have heard, “Don’t go to Pisa. there is nothing there but the Leaning Tower.” Wrong. Not only is there the Leaning Tower but also a great Cathedral, Baptistry, and a fabulous museum. (Especially if you are into 13th and 14th century art.)

After assuring each other that we would not take silly pictures of ourselves with the Tower that is exactly what we do. It is such fun!

Walking into the Piazza Dei Miracoli in Pisa
Sarah supporting the Tower
Mary trying to straighten the Tower

So you totally do not feel like a fool doing this because everyone else is doing it too! And even though it is really difficult to capture in pictures how leaning the Tower is, it is really leaning. Amazingly so.

Definitely leaning
M and J with Tower
Selfie

The Tower has been leaning ever since it was completed in 1372. And they have kept trying to fix it ever since. It has an inadequate foundation in ground that is too soft on one side to support its weight. Through efforts in th 1990’s the tilt has been reduced from 5.5 degrees to about 4 degrees and the building has been stabilized. You can buy a ticket for 18Euro to climb to the top. We choose not to. Instead we buy the much cheaper ticket to see the Cathedral, Baptistry, and Camposanto.

We start our touring at the Cathedral. It is a beautiful building inside and out.

Front facade of the Pisa Cathedral
Interior

As we begin our exploration of the church we are struck by how few people are inside. Outside there are hundreds or more taking their silly selfies but in here maybe twenty? Good for us!

Over the altar is a mosaic of Christ Enthroned between the Virgin and St. John completed in 1320. The style is not quite as Byzantine as the mosaics in Monreale or Cefalu on Sicily. Sarah and I think it is nice that Jesus has a tummy in this mosaic.

Apsidal mosaic

There is also an early 14th century pulpit by Giovanni Pisano depicting episodes in the life of Christ.

Pisa Cathedral pulpit

To the left of the altar there is a Madonna and Child painting from the 1200’s attributed to Berlinghieri.

Madonna and Child by Berlinghieri, 13th century

Next we visit the Baptistry which is beautiful and ornate on the outside and rather austere inside. Most of the Baptistries are dedicated to St. John “the Baptist”, duh. The building was started in 1152 and completed in 1363. The shape of the building is reminiscent of a Pope’s hat.

Pisa Baptistry

Inside, as I said, it is pretty devoid of decoration. The baptismal font and statue are from 1246 and the pulpit completed in 1260. There are tombs in the floor. The chamber is said to be acoustically perfect. The info on it says that visitors go in and sing every day. Since there are just the three of us in here, there is no singing. Too bad Jonathan is not with us for this part of the trip, he could have beat boxed!

Interior of Pisa Baptistry

Lastly we visit the Camposanto Monumentale or Monumental Cemetary. It is walled in and said to have been built with a shipload of soil from Calvary. There are tombs in the pavement and various Roman artifacts. There is also an enormous fresco titled the Triumph of Death by Buffalmacco, 14th century.

Vision of Hell – looks pretty gruesome!
Judgement
John next to monument to Fibonacci
Mary touching something old

We have finished our visit to the Piazza dei Miracoli and drive over to the National Museum of St. Matthew. But first we must find some lunch! We walk around assuming we will find a restaurant. They are pretty few and far between. The first one we try is full. Finally we find a pizzeria and spaghetteria called La Tombola, which is an Italian game similar to Bingo.

Finding a good restaurant is often just a game of chance. We have happened upon a pizzeria which makes an odd form of pizza. I look up afterwards to see if there is a special type of Pisan pizza. There is not.

Odd pizza from La Tombola

After our strange pizza lunch we head over to the museum. Heading up to the second floor to our area of interest, we are gobsmacked by the extent of 13th and 14th century art. Usually there is like one thing from the 1200’s in a museum. Here there are rooms dedicated to the first half and second half of the 13th century. There is a whole room of crucifixes from the 1100 and 1200s. We should have come here first! Now we are tired and have only until 3:15PM on our parking ticket.

Here are only a few of the awesome works –

This interesting painting from the late 15th century was commissioned by an Italian family and painted by a Flemish artist. St. Catherine does not look at all Italian. She has the pale complexion and dress of Northern Europe.
In the predella below the St. Catherine painting and painted by some local Italian artist is the real way St. Catherine was killed- not on the wheel she always carries but by beheading.
Here is our old friend Masaccio painting St.Paul in 1426. You can see by the modeling of the figure that Masaccio is definitely leaning towards the Renaissance but the gold background and embossed halo are definitely Gothic.
This 1422 Madonna of Humility (sitting on the floor) who appears to be having a staring contest with Jesus is painted by Gentile da Fabriano in the flamboyant International Gothic style with its elongated and elegant figures.
Cannot pass up the opportunity to take a picture of St. Anthony The Abbot with his little devil-pig
These figures of Christ with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist along with Saints Catherine and Sylvester are from the mid-1200s. There is nothing Renaissance about them. They are on gold backgrounds with Byzantine faces, elongated boneless hands, and ornate folding of their garments.
Room with 13th and 14th century crucifixes
13th century crucifix with imagined musculature

It has been a big day for us and once again none of us wants to eat dinner. John and I catch up on news on CNN International and BBC World. Tomorrow we should be almost over jet lag ( I hope)!

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