The most import work in the Museo is the Madonna of the Conversation by Giovanni Pisano. Equally fine is a carved ivory also by him. A retroaltar by Tino da Camiano also stands out as does a sarcophagus of a bishop by Nino Pisano and a polychrome crucifix again of Giovanni.
While others marvel at the incline of the tower and the fun hike up it I was intrigued by the bells that have been placed on the tower.
A total of seven bells are in place on the Leaning Tower of Pisa. . All of them have names and their size range from 140 to 3620 kg. Five of the bells are visible when you get off on the first level of the tower. Two others are located in what is called the upper arcade and require a little bending and neck stretching.
The two prettiest of the bells deserve a little notation and are also the ones I took pictures of.
Pasquerecia - is the oldest of the bells on the tower and was cast around 1262. It also has the most adoration on it including an inscription noting where it was made and the name of the foundry, multiple arabesques, an eagle, a winged horse, and multiple roseaces. This bell originally hung at the Pisa Tower of Justice and was rung to announce prisoners heading for capital execution.
Il Asunta- is the largest of the bells and from what I could see the prettiest of the bells. Perhaps its beauty is attributable to the fact that is made of gold. At 3620 kg, it is almost twice the size of the second largest bell. It was cast by Giovanni Orlandi in 1654.
The bells for hundreds of years were rung by using bell chords that were attached to the ground. This practice stopped in the early 20th century for fear that the two largest of the bells were too heavy and may break free.
The bells are only visible if you climb the tower. I heard no bells chiming during our visit to the tower.
So ordinarily a food market or an organic market is nice but not something to get terribly excited about. However Pisa has a great outdoor food market at Plazza Vittorio Emmanuel and it is definitely something to get excited about!
On the day we were there, a Wednesday, there were dozens of red tents forming somewhat of a circle around the plazza. Fresh cookies, dried meats. dried fruit, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, cheeses, cookies baked on-site, candies, cheese, and spices to name but a few of the things we saw for sale.
While I focused the pictures on the cheeses, I purchased a macaroon from a little tent that did nothing but make macaroons. The macaroon had been freshly baked. Yes on site! It was absolutely delicious but I proceeded to make a mess of myself as I tried to eat while looking at what the other booths had to sell.
The market takes place at least every Wednesday and longer during special events.
The Piazza Vittorio Emmanuel is the first Pisa plazza you come into contact with as you come out of the Pisa Train Station and move towards the Leaning Tower.
The piazza was named after Vittorio Emmanuel II, a very popular figure, who was the King of Sardinia and a leader of the Italian unification movement in the late 19th century. In 1861 Vittorio Emmanuel became the first King of Italy since the sixth century. A statue of him is displayed prominently in the piazza.
This plazza has been rebuilt after it was heavily damaged during World War 2. Walking around the piazza you can still see signs of damage along with old and newly constructed buildings. There are many restaurants and stores fronting the piazza although this particular one is not as ornate or interesting as some of the others in Pisa. It is one of the few piazzas we visited in Italy that has grass planted on part of it.
Bottom line this piazza is worth a quick look around on your way to other monuments in Pisa and a definite stop when the public food market is open in the central part of the piazza.
What many tourists probably miss when going to Pisa is Keith Haring's mural Tuttomondo ("All the world") on the rear wall of the Church of Sant'Antonio convent. It is the last public painting he made, from June 1989, before he died in 1990. Fans of the pop art artist will surely enjoy seeing the large mural, and even for people who are not familiar with his work, it is certainly an interesting work of art to check out.
This small church next to the museum complex is a hidden delight we discovered by accident wandering to the Tower from the Railway station. Inside are hidden delights or artwork including a truly impressive cieling that can be seen close up from a terrace inside the church. The Santa Maria della spina church is just across the water and is more impressive ouside. This little church is far more impressive where it counts. Inside!
Pisa's botanical garden, or "Orto botanico di Pisa", was created in 1544 under Cosimo I de Medici, making it the oldest university botanical garden in Europe. It still belongs to the University of Pisa, and although it's not that big, it offers a nice relaxing break from the noise of the city. All native and exotic plants and trees are identified, and there are information panels in Italian and English about the garden's most interesting specimens, some of which are several centuries old. That's how I learned that Goethe made a special trip to Pisa to see a palm tree planted in the garden in 1786 - and the palm tree still stands today. Although the new botanical school building is more recent, the 16th century botany institute, with its facade entirely covered with sea shells, can also be seen.
Pisa's botanical garden is open from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm on weekdays (8:30 am to 1:00 pm on Saturday, closed on Sunday). Admission costs 2.50 Euros.
If you're not that much into botanical gardens and would rather go for a walk around a public park, I'd recommend the Parco della Fortezza Sangallo. This park consists of a nice little stretch of green located between the Arno River and the old fortezza, which used to be one of the focal points of the city's fortifications system. The fortezza is not open to the public, but visitors can walk around the park where they'll find benches, a small playground for kids and public restrooms. Admission is free.
The Palazzo Reale was designed by Bernardo Buontalenti and built between 1583 and 1587 as the summer residence of the Medici family who would often spend time in Pisa when it got too hot to stay in Florence. Many parties were thrown at the Palazzo over the years to which royal families from all over Europe were invited. As with the majority of Medici residences, the Palazzo is large but rather unassuming, at least from the outside. Many rooms of the building now house city offices, but some 20 rooms were restored to their original appearance in the 1980s and are now open to the public. The collection on display is actually made up of several private collections that, taken together, give a nice overview of Pisan culture through the ages. Several portraits of the Medici, Lorraine and Savoy families can be seen, along with a group of 35 Flemish tapestries, paintings, manuscripts, and a collection of plaster casts by Italo Griselli.
The most interesting part of the museum for me had to do with the "Gioco del Ponte", or "Joust of the Bridge". This fairly dangerous game was played in Pisa during a tournament established by the Medici. Two teams wearing armours and bearing weapons would take a spot on either side of the Arno River, run across a bridge and fight until a team managed to take possession of the bridge - injuries were numerous and death wasn't unheard of, especially when men wearing full metal armours would fall off the bridge and drown. A few towers were built along the river to allow upper class people to watch the tournament, including the Palazzo Reale's Torre della Verga d'Oro. The museum houses a nice collection of decorated armours and weapons that were used during the tournament.
The Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale is open every day from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. Admission is 5 Euros, which I thought was rather expensive since there isn't that much on display, but at least I got to learn about the Gioco del Ponte :o)
Most visitors will be happy to visit the Cathedral of Pisa and then move on. Others, however, might find it interesting to know that there are over 20 historic churches located in the downtown area of Pisa, with the majority dating back to the 11th, 12th or 13th century. While most of them don't boast the same quantity of art treasures as the churches in Florence, walking from church to church is still a nice way to get a taste of the city, especially since admission is usually free. During our day in Pisa, we picked up a city map and visited a dozen churches or so. Most of them were Romanesque in style, but perhaps the most famous one of all is the little white church of Santa Maria della Spina (built in 1230), partly thanks to its location (on the main street leading to the Piazza dei Miracoli, next to the Arno River), but mostly thanks to its remarkable Gothic architecture.
The area between the Piazza dei Miracoli and the River Arno, bounded by the Via Santa Maria on the west and Borgo Stretto on the east, is a delightful place to explore. Much of this part of the city belongs to the university and its beautiful buildings dominate the southern end of the Via Santa Maria and neighbouring streets, interspersed with the typical shops of an academic town – bookshops, copy shops, stationery. The whole of this street is charming, and it winds seductively, luring you on to see what might be just round the next bend (it was designed deliberately for this effect). Just east of the Via Santa Maria, at its southern end, lies Piazza Dante, a focal point for student life and with several inexpensive bars and restaurants and a shady green space at its centre. Further east still lies the medieval heart of Pisa, where you will find a bustling vegetable market in the Piazza Vettovaglie, surrounded by buildings that date back to the Middle Ages, with a pretty 16th century arched colonnade on their ground floor. In the surrounding streets and alleyways you can still find many examples of the characteristic medieval tower-houses, built tall and thin to make the most of valuable space in the ancient city.
So grab your camera and spend a few hours at least of your visit to Pisa wandering away from that Tower to see what else the city has to offer – you won’t be disappointed!
Of course, the highlight in Pisa is the Campo dei Miracoli with the Duomo, Baptristry and Leaning Tower, but Pisa has much more to offer than the Square of Miracles, so if you are planning a visit be sure to reserve a few hours for the other sights.
Since most tourists do not want to really go more far away from the leaning tower, for this reason Pisa is the single city in Tuscany, which remained really in its original state.
Piazza dei Cavalieri was the center of politics of the Pisan Republic. On the huge square among others two large buildings - Palazzo dei Cavalieri, once the knights' military training quarters, Palazzo dell' Orologio - and a church - National Church of Saint Stephen of the Knights - can be admired.
Palazzo dell' Orologio having been used as jail in the times past, has a creepy story from the 13th century. A count of Pisa being condemned to death by starvation together with his sons has eaten one of his children while in that prison. (Good appetite!!)
Nowadays, the square is also internationally known for the Scuola Normale di Pisa located in Palazzo dei Cavalieri.
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina in the near of Ponte Solferino is a picturesque little chapel on the train station-side of the Arno River before crossing over to see the Leaning Tower. A thorn from Christ's Crown of Thorns is preserved here.
Each June Pisa honours its patron saint - San Ranieri - with a great regatta and a night-time Luminara along both banks of the River Arno. Historic buildings are romantically lit with candles or burning torches creating a fantastical fairyland, enhanced by a parade of antique boats with costumed crews.
The regatta takes place on the next day contested by teams from the four quarters of the city. The boats are manned by eight oarsmen, one steersman and an additional man who, upon arrival at the finish line must climb a 8 meters long rope on large boat anchored in the middle of the Arno, in order to grab the flag of victory.
Every four years in June Pisa hosts the Marine Republic Regatta against Venice, Genoa and Amalfi. In 2009 Pisa will be the host. It is an important event for the Pisans, and not only a show put on for tourists, but a centuries-old event taken quite seriously by the participants.
We had intended to walk by the river to see the Fortezza San Gallo and then the tower but, walking in torrential rain is little fun. Just a few photos before we gave up and went to the rail station and a short dry trip to Empoli and then back.
It was a fantastic tour of the inside. The National Museum of San Matteo, which is housed in the Benedictine Monastery, features a group of paintings from the 12th- to 18th- centuries, and a rich collection of sculpture from the Pisano School. The sculptures were absolutely wonderful, but not to be outdone, the paintings were well presented and preserved. It really is a library beside being a museum and the university right close to it uses the facilities for research.
Every time I have been here, the vendors are MORE aggressive and rude and pushy. It is sickening to have such a world wonder and then allow the ones trying to sell mostly junk to a plethera of naive tourists take over this plaza. Besides hanging right outside the gate, they also string along a couple of blocks outside. Inside are some local Italians selling wares, but also some others, not welcome in the Miracoli complex, but they tolerate them? I know Italy is trying to figure out how to handle this, but something needs to be done soon. It is too beautiful to ruin any further.
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