italy: pisa’s campo dei miracoli & the leaning tower

After a breakfast of yogurt, granola, raspberries, blood orange juice and coffee, we packed our Mercedes and left our La Spezia apartment by 8:30.  We drove by the port at La Spezia, past the military shops, leisure boats, shipping containers, cargo ships, the promenade, and a huge round church with a cross.

Soon, we were driving south to Pisa on the A-12 near Carrara. To the east was Parco Naturale Alpi Apuane.  It was a beautiful day of blue skies, tatters of clouds with gray underbellies, umbrella trees, and a village atop every hill. Pastel houses with ornamental grasses, garden plots, and red-tiled rooftops adorned the landscape.  A fancy tour bus passed us by – probably a Chinese group.  The coast lay to the west.  We passed stone houses with green shutters, an Agip gas station with yellow canopies, a red SOS sign and phone box. Poppies erupted in bright red exclamation points.  Farmland stretched to the eastern mountain range, broken by a grove of spindly-trunk trees.  We pulled off at an IKEA, where we used the facilities in a McDonald’s.

We arrived in Pisa and stood with other people at a parking lot ticket machine for a long time trying to figure it out.  It turned out you had to put the zone # in.  One frustrated man, upon finally paying, said, shaking his head, “It’s so easy, once you finally figure out how to do it!”  That made me laugh.

We were greeted with cheap souvenirs on the approach to the complex known as Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) in Pisa, which sits on the Arno River.  The lawn was impossibly green, and there it was, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, with its 15-foot lean (3.9 degrees) from the vertical.  Of course, everyone, including us, had to take pictures of each other holding up the tower.

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Duomo

The complex has five grand buildings: the Cathedral (or Duomo), its bell tower (Torre Pendente, or the Leaning Tower), the Baptistery (Battisterio), the hospital (today’s Museo delle Sinopie), and the Camposanto Cemetery. They represent the main events in a Pisan’s life: christening, marriage, ceremonial honors, hospitalization, and death and burial.

From 1000-1300, Pisa rivaled Amalfi, Venice and Genoa as a sea trading power, often swapping European goods for exotic items from Muslim lands. The city used its wealth to build the now-famous leaning tower.  Pisa’s power ebbed in the early 15th-century as Florence grew in dominance.  Though it enjoyed a resurgence in the mid-16th century under Cosimo I de’Medici, it sustained heavy damage during World War II.  Luckily, the Duomo and Leaning Tower were spared.

The tower, built as a campanile for the Duomo, was built over two centuries by three different architects beginning in 1173.  It ran into problems almost immediately, and was leaning when it was unveiled in 1372. The heavy tower, with its shallow 13-foot foundation, was sinking on the south side into marshy unstable soil.  The structure has since been anchored to the land.

According to legend, Galileo dropped metal balls from the top of the 187-foot (56m) high tower to experiment on the nature of gravity.

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Pisa’s cathedral, the Romanesque Duomo, was begun in 1064 and consecrated in 1118.  It uses a horizontal green-and-cream marble-striped motif inspired by Moorish architecture.  This motif is common in Tuscan cathedrals.

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The Duomo

The part-Gothic round Battistero (Baptistry), begun in 1152, is known for its remarkable acoustics. It is topped by a gild bronze John the Baptist (1395). The lower arcades are Pisan-Romanesque, while the upper section and dome are Gothic.  Galileo Galilei was baptized in the octagonal font in 1246.

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The Baptistery & the Duomo

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the Baptistery

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the Baptistery

We walked along the wall which goes 3km around the entire town.  It has its first exit at 1km, but we never reached it.  We met chattering school groups atop the wall. Parts of the wall had metal poles forming a screen; they reached high up, blocking the perfect views of the tower.  What a rip-off.  In those spots, no photography was allowed. I thought they should have told us that before we paid the fee and walked up there.

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The wall around Pisa

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walking the wall

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view of Campo dei Miracoli from the wall

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view of the Leaning Tower from the wall

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walking along the wall

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view of Pisa neighborhoods from the wall

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view of the Leaning Tower from the wall

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view of the Leaning Tower from the wall

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view of the Leaning Tower from the wall

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view of the Leaning Tower from the wall

The open-air courtyard of the 1277 Camposanto Cemetery, sitting on the western side of the Field of Miracles, is surrounded by a cloister of Gothic porticoes. In the Middle Ages, wealthy and powerful Pisans were buried here in ancient Roman sarcophagi.  Many of the cloisters’ frescoes were destroyed during WWII. According to legend, the cemetery is filled with earth that returning Crusaders brought back from Cavalry in the Holy Land.

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view of Camposanto Cemetery from the wall

We went to a small cafe for a coffee and a plain croissant and when we walked out, it had started raining a bit.  Big black clouds hunkered down overhead, obliterating the skies that had been so blue before.

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa

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the Duomo

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa

We picked up the Mercedes, after taking a few more pictures of the tower, and began our drive to Lucca.

*Monday, April 29, 2019 (half day)*

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“PHOTOGRAPHY” INVITATION:  I invite you to create a photography intention and then create a blog post for a place you have visited. Alternately, you can post a thematic post about a place, photos of whatever you discovered that set your heart afire. You can also do a thematic post of something you have found throughout all your travels: churches, doors, people reading, people hiking, mountains, patterns, all black & white, whatever!

One of my photography intentions for Italy was to take photos of iconic Italian places, one of which is certainly the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

You probably have your own ideas about this, but in case you’d like some ideas, you can visit my page: photography inspiration.

I challenge you to post no more than 20-25 photos and to write less than 1,500 words about any travel-related photography intention you set for yourself. Include the link in the comments below by Wednesday, April 29 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Thursday, April 30, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation, every first, second, and third (& 5th, if there is one) Thursday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!