The Banana Tower of Pisa

Livorno, Italy – Morning

Today we are in Livorno, Italy. There were lots of options for tours including Florence and Pisa. We had been to Florence a couple times so we chose Pisa. But, our Italian captain had said that Livorno was also a great place to explore so, after our morning tour I decided to do just that.

Margaret woke up still having a cough and just not feeling well so I will go out by myself. Breakfast at La Veranda and then off to the theater to exchange the tour ticket, off the ship and to the bus. Our tour guide was named Lara and, although her mike was going on and off we managed to use the wireless headset units even on the bus in order to hear her. The bus ride was a bit over 30 minutes and had little of interest other than a bunch of fishing boats in the harbor, a smelly oil refinery on the outskirts of the port and a 7 mile long military base. So much for being in Italy. You drive past the Miracle Square area where the tower is, then back track a bit and park the bus in a big lot. Then, you walk about 10 minutes through a circuitous path until you start seeing black guys pushing their wares on you.

They are illegal sellers and we were told that you could be fined 500 Euros for buying from them. I really doubt that this would happen since there were about 100 of these guys around all over town and you’d think they would just arrest all these guys if they wanted to really stop it. We picked up a new local tour guide, which I found odd since our first tour guide was also local and both knew all the stories but it really didn’t matter.

We walked past rows of street vendors all selling the same sort of trinkets, purses, Pinocchio’s puppets and the like. Pinocchio’s story originated in this area. Another 10 minute or less walk brought us to the gate to the Piazza del Duomo, renamed Miracle Square, since the 20th century, because at one point a famous artist that I had never heard of said that the square was so beautiful that it was a “miracle” the first time he saw it. Voila! It was immortalized by changing the name. Not much of a story really but that’s what they told us.

That being said, it really is beautiful when you enter the newly minted Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) via the big entry gate through the very tall midievil walls that surround the plaza. While the bell tower of the Cathedral, known as “the leaning Tower of Pisa”, is the most famous image of the city, the dome-shaped Baptistry, the Cathdral, and Campo Santo (the monumental cemetery). The medieval complex includes the above-mentioned four sacred buildings, the hospital and few palaces.

We first heard stories about how the bell tower was constructed. After building just two stories it listed to the south by at first a meter due to it having an inadequate foundation and being built on ground that was softer on one side than the other. This area previously was marshy land and, in fact, there originally were canals similar to Venice instead of roads through the surrounding buildings, thereby explaining why the streets are curved instead of a straight grid. Unsurprisingly, it is up for debate about who the original architect was and no one put their name on the structure as was the practice at the time.

Because the Republic of Pisa was in almost constant battles with cities in the area (like Genoa and Florence) among other groups, the project was delayed almost a century, allowing the ground to settle a bit. It would have otherwise fallen over. A new architect took over and decided to compensate for the tilt by making one side of each floor taller than the other, making the actual building curved! The original project was started in 1173 and they had only gotten to the seventh floor by 1319 and topped off with the bell tower in 1372, 200 years after the original project was started.

Modern projects have been undertaken to strengthen the tower and they have also cleaned it up. Looked pretty good to me. The lean looks very different from different sides. All of the buildings are made from white Carrera marble from the quarry nearby and from marble taken from other sites which is the explanation for the different colors on the cathedral.  When Pisa captured an enemy’s territory they found that they used very dark colored marble.  So, they substituted some columns with this darker marble just to let everyone know not to mess with them…sort of.  One in particular (see picture) was a very dark violet color and it really stood out.  The level of detail in the carving reminded me a lot of what we saw at the Taj Mahal.  Someone was definitely trying to show off!

We went into the cathedral which was having services on Sunday and then into the Baptistry where we were able to hear three people singing long, mellow, complementary notes which demonstrated the amazing echoes due to the huge dome. Sounded great!

We also walked around in the city and were told about Knight’s Square on which the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa is located. Basically, a college for really smart people (or, as the name says, at least smarter than normal people) founded by Napoleon, many of whom have become famous scientists, politicians and Nobel prize winners. The buildings had fantastic facades including busts of famous people. Reminded me a bit of the kinds of things we found in Florence on an earlier trip.

I had lunch near Miracle Square and walked to the meeting point from which we walked back to the bus. All in all an enjoyable day and at least a minor bucket list item had been checked off.  The bus took us back to the ship and I went immediately to the room to see how Margaret was doing.  She wasn’t doing too badly but I decided that this would be a good place to go to a farmacia and get her some strong cough medicine to help her sleep.  The next post covers my exploration of old-town Livorno.


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