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Top Ten Things To Do

Unlike most Tuscan cities, Pisa's religious centre is not inside the walls nor in the old town but marooned on the northern edge of town. Coaches decant day-trippers on the Campo Dei Miracoli, the `Field of Miracles,’ with selfies in front of the Leaning Tower the chief priority. Spare a thought for the rest of Pisa, which is full of intriguing corners.

Top Ten Things To Do

The Leaning Tower -wonder of the world

Pisa’s landmark really does lean to a frightening degree, though less than it used to. The Tower now slopes at an angle of 5° from the vertical and remains standing because its centre of gravity is inside the perimeter of its base. The unstable subsoil that underlies the Piazza dei Miracoli has caused all the buildings to tilt and subside to dizzying effect. Just to the right of the entrance to the Tower is a date stone standing for AD 1173, when building work started on the Campanile. But work stopped at the third stage because the building was already collapsing. A century later, three more stages were added, deliberately constructed to tilt in the opposite direction, so the Tower has a decided kink as well as a tilt. By 1989 the Tower was leaning to such a perilous degree that it was in danger of collapse. It was promptly closed, and an international team of engineers spent the next two decades in a battle to save it. During the first phase, completed in 2001, the tower was straightened by 40cms to avoid imminent collapse. In 1992 it was given a girdle of steel braces which were attached to a cunning counterweight system. A year later, the bells were silenced because of the damaging effect of vibration on the edifice. In 2011, the Leaning Tower was reopened but, given the complex challenges, it would be tempting fate to say that the Tower was safe forever. The best place to catch your first sight of the 12th-century Tower is through the archway of the Porta Santa Maria, also known as the Porta Nuova. When the sun is shining, the whiteness daz¬zles; when raining, it glistens.
Practicalities: visits are restricted to only 45 people at a time – children under eight are not allowed in while under-eighteens must be accompanied by an adult. Book in advance online or head straight to a ticket office when you arrive to book a 35-minute slot. It’s a steep climb of 251 steps. You can take up a camera but all bags must be left in the free left-luggage desk next to the main ticket office.

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Duomo – the prototype for Tuscan cathedrals

The candy-striped Duomo was the prototype for all Tuscan Romanesque cathedrals, with its contrasting bands of colour, blind arcading, colonnaded gallery and the geometry of inlaid marble. A hallmark of the Pisan style was its talent for selecting a theatrical space: in Pisa, the main buildings present a unified whole, as if they were placed there like chess pieces. The maritime republic of Pisa was an 11th-century power, trading with northern Europe and the Muslim world. As a result, the Pisan style is a glorious hybrid: austere Norman Romanesque inspired by a Moorish Sicilian aesthetic and the Tuscan taste for marble. Yet the colourful geometry of the multi-coloured marble is essentially Tuscan. The palette contrasts white marble from Carrara, rosy pink from Maremma and dark green from Prato. The Cathedral, built be-tween 1068 and 1118, is one of the major monuments in Italy. The beau¬ti¬ful white-marble façade is studded with mosaics, inlaid marble and glass stones. The 16th-century bronze doors are surrounded by frames enlivened by animals. The majesty of the interior is created by the forest of pillars rising to arches of banded white-and-grey stone, and the col¬ourful mix of altar paintings and Cimabue’s apsidal mosaic, from 1302. The magnificent marble pulpit by Giovanni Pisano (1301–11) is a masterpiece, supported by prophets and allegorical figures, with its dramatic panels depicting scenes from the Life of Christ. Hanging from the arch of the great dome is Galileo’s Lamp, so called because its pendulum movement is said to have inspired Galileo to discover the rotation of the earth (in reality, the lamp wasn’t here in Galileo’s day).
Practicalities: Even if admission is free you need a ticket from another attraction on the square to get in, or a fixed-time pas from the ticket offices behind the Leaning Tower.

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Battistero – Italy’s largest baptistery

Also on the Campo dei Miracoli, a veritable Square of Miracles, stands the Battistero, the largest baptistery in Italy. Begun in 1152, it was remodelled by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano a century later, built in the same Pisan Romanesque style as the Cathedral. This round, arcaded affair is richly decorated with niches and statues of saints. The interior is far plainer, but it has one great treasure: Nicola Pisano’s hexagonal ¬pulpit of 1260, carved with scenes from the Life of Christ. The masterpiece was clearly influenced by Ancient Roman art, notably by Roman sarcophagi in the Camposanto (see below). Mary, for example, has the long neck, veil and ringlets typical of middle-aged matrons in Roman portraiture. You may be lucky enough during your visit to hear one of the attendants demonstrate the Baptistery’s re¬markable acoustics. As four or more individual notes are sung, the long echo allows them to build up to a complete chord that rings eerily round the dome.

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Camposanto - the world’s loveliest cemetery?

The treasures on the Campo dei Miracoli culminate the Camposanto, a gorgeous white-marble cloister.  carved with the mythological scenes that inspired the pulpits of Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. The cloister is paved with the grave slabs of medieval Pisans, carved with coats of arms or tools of their trade. It was the fashion for Pisan merchants to ship home Roman sarcophagi from the Holy Land or North Africa to reuse as their own tombs. Inspired by the realistic battle scenes carved on these antique marble tombs, the Pisani created their own versions: great pulpits sculpted with crowded and dramatic scenes from the life of Christ, which can also be seen in the Cathedral, as in Sant’Andrea church in Pistoia. In addition, frescoes damaged by incendiary bombs during the Second World War have been restored to their original positions. They include a grim series of images (1360–80) inspired by the Black Death, on the themes of the Last Judgement and the Triumph of Death.

Learn more about the Camposanto frescoes by crossing the square to the Museo delle Sinopie. The frescoes were created by laying down a sketch on the plaster undercoat using red paint (called sinopia because the pigment came from Sinope on the Black Sea). When the final thin layer of white plaster was applied, the sinopia sketch showed through and guided the artists to complete the fresco in full colour. The fire which followed the bombing of the Camposanto destroyed or damaged some of the frescoes but the disaster had a silver lining. While salvaging the frescoes, rescuers found the huge sinopie (preliminary sketches) lying beneath the frescoes - and these are now restored.

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Museo dell’Opera del Duomo – the Cathedral Museum

The final piece of the jigsaw lies in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo – the Cathedral Museum. The museum attempts an overview of the Campo dei Miracoli, including a chronology, which begins in 1064 with the start of work on the Cathedral, followed by the Baptistery in 1154, the Campanile in 1173, and the Camposanto a century later, in 1277. This short burst of fireworks was followed by swift decline as the city’s harbour silted up. By 1406, the city had been conquered by Florence and was about to be eclipsed culturally by that city’s determin¬ation to build even bigger and bolder monuments. The museum is packed with 12th–15th-century sculptures and paintings. Giovanni Pisano’s ivory Virgin and Child (1299) is a highlight, using the natural shape of the ivory tusk to give the Virgin her naturalistic stance. There are models to show the construction techniques used to build the domed Baptistery, and to explain the marble-inlay technique used to give all the buildings their intricate exterior decoration. Best of all is the shady cloister, with a spectacular view of the Leaning Tower and the Cathedral.

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Experience an official tuscany tour with

Private 500Fiat tour in Tuscany

Discover the beautiful Tuscan hills in a vintage Fiat 500. Visit three quaint villages during your 6-hour tour with English-speaking guide. Enjoy a homemade lunch with a wine-tasting session at a 200 year old villa. Visit its ancient wine cellar.

from 239,89 US Dollar

The Duomo Complex Private Tour

Enjoy a visit with a licensed guide to the most important buildings in the heart of Florence’s historic center: the Duomo (Cathedral), Baptistery, the Cathedral Museum and the exterior of Giotto’s Bell Tower . The admission fee also allows you to climb,on your own, to the top of the Bell tower and to the Dome ( reservation required ).

from 70,77 US Dollar

FLORENCE AND A BITE OF TUSCANY

The “Happy Chianti by bike” tour is perfect to discover the beauty of Florence environs, cycling through the Tuscan Hills and visiting a Renaissance villa winery for olive oil and wine tasting.

from 95,96 US Dollar

Wine & Spa Package Day Tour - Immerge yourself in the peace & beauty of Chianti

Wine & Spa Package Day Tour - Immerge yourself in the peace & beauty of Chianti

The Wine & Spa package includes:

  • Entrance to the swimming pools and the Wellness Center equipped with: Panoramic Relaxation Area with Heated Hydromassage Pool, Turkish Bath, Finnish Sauna, Emotional Showers and Tea Room
  • Lunch or dinner chosen from our menu (3 courses, Chianti Wine and Olive Oil)
  • Meet your Driver directly at your address
  • Transportation service for all the Day
  • Panoramic stop in Chianti
  • Time to see a small village (such Greve or San Gimignano) or Siena

from 227,9 US Dollar
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