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Virtual Italy Tour of Pisa

Who hasn’t wanted to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa? The Leaning Tower has become an ubiquitous symbol of Italy: the elegantly arched campanile that leans slightly and strangely to the side. It’s a bizarre building that draws thousands of tourists to it each year.

But don’t assume that Pisa has nothing else to offer the visitor. The Leaning Tower is just one out of four buildings that compose the Campo dei Miracoli or Field of Miracles. The rest of the complex includes the Duomo, Baptistry, and Camposanto. These four buildings create a dazzling architectural ensemble of graceful symmetry. The whiteness of the marble is blinding and remains imprinted in the memory long after you’ve gone home.

And because most visitors day trip into and out of only the area surrounding the Campo dei Miracoli, there’s a whole city waiting to be discovered. The center of Pisa follows a medieval plan of twisting and turning streets that open suddenly onto gorgeous piazze or the River Arno.

See

The Campo dei Miracoli was built during Pisa’s Golden Age, which occurred in the 11th to 13th centuries. Back then Pisa was a great maritime power that ruled the Mediterranean. But the city eventually fell into decline during the late 13th century by the defeat of Genoa. Yet the beauty of the Campo dei Miracoli couldn’t be vanquished and stayed for all to see and be reminded of the glory that Pisa one had.

The campo was named by an excitable Italian author, Gabriele D’Annunzio, who waxed florid when he entered the spectacular square. And you too might be tempted into eloquence when you first catch sight of the Leaning Tower and the sublime structures surrounding it. Despite the gaudy souvenir shops, when you’re in the Campo dei Miracoli, it’s impossible not to feel as if in the presence of a miracle.

The miracle may as well refer to that the buildings continue to stand. Beneath the pavement, the earth is a wet mixture of sand and silt that has set not only the Leaning Tower to a lean. Look closely at the Baptistry and Duomo to see that they are not quite as straight as they should be.

The Leaning Tower was always at an angle. The tower was begun in 1173, and after three of the eight stories were built it began to lean in the direction opposite to what it’s leaning now. Corrective stones were set in place that sent the tower leaning in the present direction! The poor campanile never was meant to stand up straight! As the architects built upwards they tried to compensate for the angle. When the tower was finally finished in 1350, the bell chamber was added almost perpendicular to the ground. You can take a climb up to the top, but it’s not for the light hearted.

The nearby Duomo sports an amazing Pisan-Romanesque facade. Attempts at imitating its front have been made throughout Tuscany, but nothing has surpassed the amazing facade of Pisa’s Duomo. While you’re there you might as well check out the black-and-white interior and the virtuosic pulpit carved by Giovanni Pisano.

The large Baptistry

Continuing on through the piazza is the largest Baptistry in Italy. Inside it has an eerily empty interior and a pulpit carved by Nicola Pisano, father to Giovanni.

The fourth structure of the Campo dei Miracoli is the Camposanto that has been called the most beautiful cemetery in the world. Unfortunately many of the frescoes were destroyed during World War II, but the Triumph of Death cycle remains. If you want to see the best pieces of sculpture and painting that once adorned the four buildings, head to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

Take some time to walk through the rest of Pisa, as there’s more to it than only the Leaning Tower. Make your first entrance into the Piazza dei Cavalieri, which comes as a surprise after twisting and turning through the medieval streets. Join the locals for a stroll down the arcaded Borgo Stretto, Pisa’s most chic street. The Borgo Stretto opens onto the River Arno at Piazza Garibaldi, a spectacular place to sit outside and have a drink.

Pisa also boasts the Orto Botanico, the oldest university botanical garden in the world. San Nicola, Pisa’s second leaning tower is close by. History lovers should check out the old Arsenale Mediceo that’s been converted into a Museo delle Navi Romane and houses sixteen ancient ships from Roman times. It’s unbelievable to think these boats were preserved in mud and silt for 2000 years!

Eat

When in Pisa eat seafood. The nearness to the Mediterranean assures that the fish is always fresh. Some local specialties include baccalà alla Pisana, which is cod in tomato sauce, or there’s an abundance of pesce spada, or swordfish. A word to the hungry and wise: don’t search for a restaurant around the heavily touristed area of Piazza dei Miracoli. Head towards the center and you’ll find better, fresher, and more local eats.