“There’s nothing in Pisa”
That’s the same piece of advise that countless*1 people told me when I told them it was my first stop in Italy. Some would then go on to say that the Leaning Tower was all that there was, and others would omit its existence altogether.
I’m writing this in the train station, my day here almost up, and while I can see what they meant, I couldn’t disagree with them more. Pisa is absolutely worth visiting, and while I have no other Italian experience to yet compare it to (Florence tomorrow, Rome on the weekend), I have been amazed by what I’ve found in this little city.
The reason I’m actually in Pisa is because it was much, much cheaper for me to Fly to Pisa and stay here a night, then train to Florence and stay a night, then train to Rome- than fly straight to Rome. Not only cheaper, but I get to see Pisa and Florence! What a deal.
I hopped off the plane PSA and walked outside with my luggage. I was a little worried. In France I was fine, I spoke enough French to easily get by. In Netherlands everyone spoke English. In England.. well, they pretended to speak English. But now, now I was in a country where I don’t know a single word, and it seems very, very few people speak English.
I pulled up my map and was grateful to see that my hostel was only a kilometre away. I was there after a very short walk. A few hand gestures later and I was given the key to the room I was staying in. A shower and a change of clothes, and I was out on the street (note, it was now about 11.30pm) and walking towards the river.
As soon as I turned a corner from my hostel, I was struck with awe. This little city is exactly what the dreams of Italy were like. Uneven paved streets, busy roadways where road rules don’t seem to apply, and a semi-grunge semi-unkempt feel was simply laid upon the city itself. I loved it.
A few more streets and my awe turned to amazement. I don’t know it’s official name, but I was facing a high medieval wall, now housing a garden and children’s playground inside. It was locked this late at night, but even walking the length of the wall, with it towering high above me, was amazing. I left it eventually and found myself down at the river, historic bridges spanning its width occasionally.
Even now, I find the river quite strange. Very few boats are on it, and it seems to have been forgotten by its people. Is it not very deep? Is it highly polluted? Pisa is built up quit a lot, but unlike every other city that would have put restaurants and shops and a riverfront, Pisa seems to have pretended like a river doesn’t exist and has nothing at all.
I spent a couple hours walking around before retiring back to my hostel room. A few hours later I was up and walking the streets again, the time barely 8am. I retraced my steps from the night before and found myself in the garden again. It was open now, and I’d bet any one else to is so got to walk around the small grounds by myself. It was great. (I returned later in the day again, just to walk through it, and a throng of people were sprawled out in the sun apparently studying).
Leaving the garden once more I crossed the river and headed towards the famous Leaning Tower. Apparently I hadn’t beaten this group, though, as when I arrived at the Piazza where the tower is, many hundreds of tourists, all putting their hands up and making really awkward poses pretending to either lean on, help keep up, or push over the Tower. It made me cringe inside, but it was a really nice site to see the Tower. It’s so white and grand as a building in itself, and then the odd fact that it is half sinking into the marshy ground just makes it all that much better.
What I didn’t anticipate, though, is the other buildings surround int. The Piazza that houses the Tower also houses a Cathedral, a Baptism building (I forget it’s actual name) and several museums. I knew the Cathedral was nearby, but didn’t know if its vastness or beauty.
While I had little interest in climbing the tower itself (especially for 18euro) I did really want to see inside the other buildings. 9 Euro got me a ticket for 5 of the other buildings. I would highly recommend getting this ticket.
The fist museum I visited was a recap of all of the Frescos that had once (and many still do) existed in the buildings surrounding. The Piazza and its buildings were now over a thousand years old, had been bombed in the Second World War, had been subject to several fires (from memory one big one in the 1500s and another large one from a bombing in the 1940s) and its a miracle that what exists even does.
Next I visited the Baptism building, which lies at the opposite side of the Cathedral to the Tower. It’s a giant circular dome, and, apparently, is one of the first circular baptism buildings in Italy, and one of the oldest. Inside is quite spectacular- more the craftsmanship than anything. Climbing to the upper landing and looking up and down at the infrastructure, it seriously amazes me that people back in the 1000s-1500s could build such perfect buildings.
After this I went into a third building- again, its name completely escapes me- but it was a large marble building which houses many, many statues, Frescos, etc. It was also the building most badly bombed during the war, and many of the statues have had to be pieces back together, restores one way or another, and the process seems to still be going on. There were some fantastic items on display in these grounds, and though [while i'm here] it is somewhat heavily under construction in some parts, still well worth the visit.
I went through the Cathedral next, a stunning building inside and out and while not as large or immaculate as Westminster or Notre Dame, very impressive upon itself. One benefit it did have above the other two is that you’re allowed to take photos throughout the entire premise- which is the same for all of these buildings.
The final part of my tour was of the museum del Opera (Probably got the name of that absolutely wrong). This museum is the largest and houses many original artifacts from the other buildings either before or after restoration and includes woodworks, stoneworks and some amazing bits and pieces. Another one that you really have to go and see.
It was about 1pm by the time I finished- a good 5 hours- and I didn’t stop to eat that entire time. If you were to spread out your morning, have breakfast and lunch, you could easily make a full day just of this piazza.
After an hour nap on the grass in the sun below the tower, I decided to head for short walk out of the Piazza and see what else I could find in Pisa. I didn’t have a guide or anything to tell me what else to look for, but even just some of the architecture and buildings throughout Pisa were so interesting- and then a bunch of street art*2 that I found was also worth stopping and admiring.
I’ll reiterate that there are very few things to do here in Pisa, but those few things that there are are definitely worth the visit, and can easily take up your day. If you have the chance and the means, I strongly, strongly suggest Pisa. It has a charm and atmosphere which I love, and embedded history that by far makes it worth seeing.
Now I’ve just got to wait another 3 hours for my train to Florence…
*1 Countless in this instance is 6. It’s a big number.
*2 Street art is “graffiti” that is artfully, tastefully done