There are three places I have always dreamt of going to in Italy: Pisa (because of bugs bunny cartoons), Venice (also because of bugs bunny cartoons) and the Vatican (probably not because of bugs bunny cartoons).
So when I realised I was definitely going to Italy in October last year I was just a wee bit excited!
Once in Italy the first port of call was Florence because the whole reason for being in Italy was my participation in a group exhibition in Florence! I have a few posts on this blog about the exhibition… you can check out opening night here.
Once exhibition nerves and excitement had calmed it was time to explore, and while Florence was amazing in terms of art, history and culture (that will be in a future blog post) a few short day trips were in order- and one of them was to Pisa!
The day we decided to venture there begun as a gorgeous winters day , but did deteriorate into a rainy afternoon and evening… but it was winter in Italy… so it was OK. In fact, being from Ballarat we were more than acclimatised to the weather!
Alighting from the train and navigating our way to the main attractions was great- lots of gorgeous buildings, streets and of course doorways…
In fact there were lots of amazing doorways throughout Italy – the problem was photographing them! There would always be a car or motorcycle parked conveniently in the way of the best ‘angle’ for the lens… who do these Italians think they are- just because they live there!
Anyway, invariably we had to cross a river to get to the ‘historical’ centre of town – as you always do in Italy: it was a military defence thing back in the day. In this case it was the Fiume Arno river, and just before crossing we came across an amazing Gothic church, Santa Maria della Spina, which was built in 1230. The name Spina (“thorn”) comes from the thorn allegedly in the crown placed on Christ’s head, which was introduced to Pisa in 1333. In 1871 the church was dismantled and rebuilt on a higher level due to dangerous water levels of the Arno river. I would have loved to look in this church, but it was unfortunately closed (I thought churches were supposed to be open 24/7 for refuge, oh well).
On this same road, which ran parallel to the river were several historic buildings, including a mansion/palace dating back to the 11th century, with multiple renovations over the following centuries. During this time it was always occupied by wealthy families and as a result an art collection spanning centuries accumulated – this is a theme in Italian museum history- just look at the Vatican, and numerous castles and palaces which regularly get converted to museums galleries. Today it is the Palazzo Blu, a museum which houses a museum, permanent collection and changing international exhibitions. So of course we went in to check it out… the museum aspect of it comprises the original rooms – family rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, etc furnished accurately and decorated with the permanent art collection. It was actually well worth a visit, with some amazing artworks spanning centuries, however photos weren’t allowed :-/
Crossing the river into the old centre did not reveal a great difference in structure… the same narrow streets and building styles… whereas in Verona there was a marked difference between the old and new town centres. Like most Italian cities which were originally micro states this was a walled city, and Pisa’s wall was still in good condition. Within the far corner of the wall was the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Baptistery, a cemetery and St Mary’s Cathedral – all squished into , what seemed to me, a really small area.
As you can see from the photos, it was a grey day, but conveniently right across the road was a cute little cafe with a window seat to the tower… unfortunately it was the only cafe with this luxury – I can’t understand why – so tourists were taking turns to share the seating and get their photo taken : apart from a couple of obnoxious individuals, but there’s always some!
After a warming red wine in the cafe we checked out the cathedral, and were able to take photos…no flash is problematic, but at least we could take photos. The churches are so spectacular and overwhelming… even after looking at dozens, the grandiosity doesn’t fail to impress! Even the smallest of churches has masterpieces hanging and statues and carvings littering the walls and ceilings. (I will put in a slight political comment here, and say that I knew the Catholic Church was rich…. but after seeing this – they should be paying taxes!)
By the time we came out of the cathedral it was dark – being a rainy winter’s day, so we headed back to the station via the Roman Baths, the only remaining Roman ruins in Pisa. They were built in the 1st Century AD around the time of the Emperor Domitianus, and even in the dark looked really impressive.
We would have liked to stay longer to explore more of Pisa. Judging by our tourist map there is lots more to see… but I guess that’s an excuse for going back.