On our way back from the Cinque Terre to Lucca, we made a brief — a very brief — stop at another UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa. The stop was so brief that I thought about not posting about it at all. But it was ridiculously beautiful and I do have some photos, so here they are.
From the UNESCO website: the Piazza del Duomo contains “four masterpieces of medieval architecture — the cathedral, the baptistery, the campanile (the tower) and the cemetery,” chosen as a World Heritage Site because of its “great influence on monumental art in Italy from the 11th to the 14th century (sic).”
I’d been to Pisa before and remember seeing the cathedral and the tower, inside and out. This time, I didn’t even get that much in. Getting into all four buildings and a museum associated with the cathedral require timed tickets (the cathedral is free but the rest cost). After standing in the ticket line for awhile, we learned that the next tickets available weren’t for another hour, by which time we’d be on the bus on the way back to Lucca. So we had to satisfy ourselves with wandering the grounds.
Construction began on the cathedral in 1064 and was completed by sometime in the mid-14th century. The exterior is made of gray marble and white stone in the Romanesque style.
The cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Pisa. A 15th century archbishop of Pisa, Francesco Salviati Riario, was involved in the Pazzi conspiracy, a plot to assassinate Lorenzo de Medici and overthrow the Medici as the rulers of Florence. Riario got involved because the Medici had opposed his appointment as archbishop of Pisa. The assassination attempt failed, the plot was foiled, and Riario was hung out of a window at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence (now part Florence city hall/part museum). Lesson of the day: don’t mess with the Medici.
The original cathedral doors were burnt in a 1595 fire. The current ones are by 16th century Flemish sculptor Giambologna.
The round Pisa baptistery was started in 1152 and completed in 1363. It’s the largest baptistery in Italy and is taller than the leaning bell tower. The baptistery also leans — 0.6 degrees toward the cathedral.
The famous leaning tower of Pisa is the bell tower to the cathedral. The entire duomo complex is built on unstable sandy soil, which is the reason all the structures — but most famously the bell tower — lean. The bell tower started leaning as soon as they started construction in the 12th century. It used to lean even more, but it was semi-corrected and stablized during restoration in the 1990s. They could have straightened it completely, but then they’d lose tourists. So they left it leaning.
There are apparently websites and Instagram feeds dedicated to the weird things that people do while photographing themselves at the leaning tower. One day, when you’re bored, google “weird leaning tower of Pisa poses” and see what you get.
The piazza is surrounded by a wall and the outside wall is lined with souvenir vendors. There are also a lot of strolling — occasionally aggressive — souvenir vendors. Italy has a perceptible illegal immigrant population and many make their living selling to tourists.
There’s no parking near the piazza. This shuttle took us back and forth from the car park. Here’s where sticking with the group was a mistake — it would have been less humiliating (and not that far) to walk.
My opinion: a visit to just the leaning tower isn’t worth it. However, if you have time to see the entire duomo complex — inside and out — it would definitely be worth at least a half a day of your time. Better yet, a few days to see the port city of Pisa itself, at the mouth of the Arno and full of medieval palaces and bridges, would be even better. You can take a train — a real train, not our Train of the Damned — to the central Pisa terminal and it’s an easy walk to the Duomo complex from there.