Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Real Italy: Pisa

The town of Pisa is of Etruscan origin. In 179 B.C. it became a Roman colony and in 89 B.C. a Roman municipium. Pisa was an important naval base for the Romans. In the Middle Ages it was an important citt࠭arinara, i.e. a port, just like Venice, Genoa and Amalfi. Each of these towns had both a merchant fleet and a navy, which controlled all the seas around Italy . Pisa reached its greatest peak of splendour in the XI and XII centuries when it expanded its power over the islands of Corsica, Sicily and Sardinia. In addition, it controlled all the Tuscan coast from Portovenere to Civitavecchia. During the first Crusade (1096-1099) its military and commercial power expanded also eastwards and during the XII century some colonies were founded along the same routes followed by the Crusaders. At this time also some small industries developed in Pisa, especially those involved in the processing of wool and leather. In 1162 Pisa became a free commune with its own statutes, and it was in this period that a new architectural style was born. From the XI to the XIV century the arts, and especially architecture, flourished. Some wonderful buildings were erected, such as the Cathedral, with the contribution of great artists. One of these was Nicola Pisano, the greatest Italian Gothic sculptor, who started a school that influenced all the Italian sculpture of that period. In 1284 Pisa was defeated by Genoa in the Battle of Meloria and so a period of decline began, which terminated with the subjection of the town to Florence. Under the Florentine rule of Lorenzo il Magnifico, the town knew a new period of splendour and the urban landscape underwent important transformations. Wonderful buildings in the Renaissance style were erected and in 1472 the University was founded. In this university Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) taught Physics, thus starting an importan scientific tradition that still continues in Pisa today. At the end of the XIX century the town extended outside the boundary of the old town-walls. Pisa suffered from great damages during World War II. The quarter south of the river Arno was completely destroyed. So most of the urban shape of the town, as we see it today, is due to recent development.

Altitude: 4 metres above the sea level
Nearest airport: PISA
Train connections: easily accessible from FIRENZE, ROMA and LIVORNO
Zip code: 56100
Telephone: dial +39.50 before the number you want to call

Campo dei Miracoli

In the square called "Campo dei miracoli", which is one of the most important examples of Italian Medieval architecture, you will see the Cathedral, the Baptistery, the Cemetery and the famous Leaning Tower.According to the Medieval custom of placing the cemeteries outside the town walls, this square lies in a decentralized position off the roads that lead to Lucca and to the sea. In this area there were once some Roman buildings, besides a later Longobard cemetery. The four beautiful buildings that we see today were erected over a period of three hundred years, from the XI to the XIV century. From 1153 to 1163 the new town walls were also erected, encircling the square for the first time. Since a lot of stone was used for the erection of these building, a shipway had to be dug up to carry the stones from the quarries of Monte Pisano to Pisa. It still survives today.

The Cathedral

The Cathedral was built in the second half of the XI century. It is one of the most important examples of Romanesque art in Pisa. In 1063 the navy of Pisa defeated the Arabian one off the coast of Palermo and one year later, with the rich booty, the construction of the cathedral could be begun. It is first of all a political monument which was meant to demonstrate the power and importance of Pisa. On the facade you can still read the long inscriptions celebrating the town's victorious war exploits.The architect Buscheto was the first who worked on this building, which was consecrated in 1118. During the XII century Rainaldo enlarged the church and also made the fa硤e, which is marked by blind arcades and three wonderful portals in the lower part. Above the two minor portals are some precious rose-windows adorned by mosaics of marble and glazed inlays. In the upper part the fa硤e is characterized by four galleries of small arches, a pattern that is continued by blind arches along the side walls. The articulation of galleries and small arches is the unifying element of all the four buildings in Campo dei Miracoli . Both outside and inside the walls are marked by a face of horizontal bicolored fascias. The plan of the Cathedral is a Latin cross and the apse is east-oriented according to Christian tradition. The well-lighted inside is divided into five aisles by colonnades which continue in the large presbytery. Also the transept is divided into aisles by two colonnades. The capitals follow Corinthian and composite forms. The women's galleries, with their mullioned windows of Byzantine origin, run along the nave and the transept. The octagonal dome rises where the nave intersects the transept. It stands on a tambour surrounded by an open Gothic gallery ouside. The church has a lacunar ceiling made at the end of the XVI century. This church, a work of art itself, is rich of precious decorations and works by important artists. You can admire the beautiful marble pulpit made by Giovanni Pisano (1302-11), which is an important example of Italian Gothic sculpture. The paintings were made by Andrea del Sarto, Sodoma and Beccafuni, who were local artists, while the glass windows belong to the Gozzoli's school.

The Leaning Tower

The famuos Leaning Tower is the bell-tower of the nearby cathedral. Its erection was started by Bonanno Pisano in 1137, but it was soon interrupted because the ground began to sink. It was finished by Tommaso Pisano in 1350, after an intervention of Giovanni di Simone. The tower is made of a larger cylinder surmounted by a smaller one containing the bell. The tower shows a first order of blind arcades and six levels of open galleries. A spiral staircase leads to the open galleries and the terrace around the bell. The Leaning Tower has been closed to the public since 1993 for repair and consolidation works.

The Baptistery

The circular Baptistery was begun by Diotisalvi in 1153 and was continued by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Cellino di Nese and Mastro Zibellino in the XIII and XIV centuries. The lower order of arcades and columns recovers the identic theme of the nearby Cathedral. The crowning is Gothic with pinnacles and cuspes. The dome has a very peculiar shape. It is made of two distinct volumes: one of conic section, which stands on the women's galleries, and the other of emispherical shape which stands on the external walls. Inside it was ispired by the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem: the conical inner dome stands on a dodecagon, the columns of which are divided into four groups by pillars. In the centre of the radiating pattern of the floor stands the lace-carved octagon of Guido Bigarelli da Como's font of 1246. The pulpit is also noteworthy. It was made by Nicola Pisano in 1260. It represents the transition from Romanesque to Gothic art. Its compact polygonal form, so closely adapted to its surroundings, is comparatively rare. The walls are decorated with scenes from the life of Christ.

The Cemetery

The boundary of the cemetery is marked by a rectangular enclosure made of marble, whose erection was started by Giovanni di Simone in 1278. The legend says that this cemetery was erected exactly where the Crusaders lay the soil they had brought from the Holy Land. Outside you will see some blind arches and two simple portals, the right one of which has a Gothic shape. It used to be the main entrance, but unfortunately it is now always kept closed. The inside is a rectangular area surrounded by a porch, whose arcades were changed from simple Gothic ones into remarkable mullioned windows with four lights between 1283 and 1464. The walls of this porch were decorated with frescoes made by Francesco Traini, an important painter from Pisa, Piero di Puccio from Orvieto and Benozzo Gozzoli, who painted the frescoes of the northern wing from 1468 to 1484. The cemetery also contains several monuments, sculptures and ancient sarcophagi of historical and artistic value, which have been used to bury some important people moved here from the Cathedral. The graves of ordinary people were generally either anonymous or with modest tombstones in the central enclosure. On the 27 July 1944 the American artillery shot the Cemetery roof which entirely burnt down: the girders collapsed and so did the lead covering of the roof. Also a lot of frescoes and sculptures were destroyed or heavily damaged. Most of what has survived is currently being restored. However, it is worth visiting the Museo delle Sinopie where you can see the preparatory drawings for the frescoes, which will help you better understand the work of the medieval artists. Today tourists usually come to Pisa to see the Tower, the Cathedral or the Baptistery. Unfortunately, they know very little about the Cemetery, even though in the past it was the most important meeting place of the town. Local people, but also foreigners used to come here to pray, chat and take a rest.

"Museo dell’opera del Duomo"

The building which houses this museum on one side of the Cathedral Square was the Chapter House from the XIII to the XVII century. Its present structure goes back to that time, when the Diocesan Seminary was transferred there, where it stayed until 1784. It was bought by a private citizen but in 1887 became a Capuchin convent. In 1979 the Cathedral Works acquired it and after much careful renovation opened the museum in 1986.

The works of art on show are all from the monuments in the Cathedral square: there are sculptures dating from the XI, XII and XIII centuries when Pisa was at the height of its power. There are wonderful works by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano e Tino di Camaino and there are statues and busts taken from the outside of the Baptistery. You can also see reliquiaries and several episcopal services. On the upper floor there are works from the 15th to the 18the centuries: paintings by Benozzo Gozzoli, Orazio Riminaldi, Battista Franco and others, and French cloths from the 18th century and 17th century archbishops’ robes. The final section of the museum houses archeological specimens found in the Cemetery.

The San Matteo Museum

The museum is housed in the ex-convent of the Sisters of Saint Matthew, a construction dating back to the 12th and 13th century. The main body of the museum collection is a number of panel paintings with gold backgrounds collected towards the end of the 18th century by the canon Sebastian Zucchetti. They were housed in various places during the 19th century until finally the Town Museum was constituted in 1893. This became the National San Matteo Museum in 1949 when it was moved to its present home. Of particular interest is the fine collection of medieval pottery, some Islamic and some Pisan, and works by the great painters of the 14th century such as Simone Martini, Francesco Traini, Spinello Aretino and many others. Also the collection of sculptures is of notable interest with works by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano and their followers. From the time when Pisa fell under the Florentine domination many of the greatest 15th century Florentine artists came to the city: Masaccio, Gentile da Fabriano, Beato Angelico, Domenico del Ghirlandaio, Benozzo Gozzoli, and they are all represented in this museum. You can also see the gilt bronze bust of St. Lussorio by Donatello and works by Jacopo Rustici and Michelozzo.

Piazza dei Cavalieri - The Knights' Square

The square was designed by Giorgio Vasari, who gave it the characteristic shape of the late Renaissance architecture. It was the ancient center of town. Its name comes from the Knights of St. Stephen who fought against the Saracens. It contains some beautiful buildings. For example, the Palazzo dell'orologio, which was built in the Renaissance period and which includes the remains of a Roman tower. The Palazzo dei Cavalieri was built by Vasari on a pre-existing building in 1562. It was erected to celebrate the order of St. Stephen's Knights.Its curvilinear fa硤e is characterized by a splendid decoration of graffiti and it is preceded by a two-flight staircase. Today the building is the seat of an important university: the Scuola Normale Superiore. On the right side of the Palazzo dei Cavalieri stands the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri (St. Stephen of the Knights), which was designed by Vasari in 1569. You will certainly be fascinated by its beautiful marble fa硤e built in 1606. The inside is a hall covered by a rich wooden ceiling. On the walls there are flags and trophies which commemorate the glories of the Knights.

The Church of Santa Maria della Spina - St. Mary of the Thorn

The church stands on the bank of the river Arno and takes its name from one of the thorns of Jesus Christ's crown which used to be kept here and is now in the church of Santa Chiara. The church of Santa Maria della Spina, a jewel of Gothic architecture, was built in 1323 on a pre-existing building. The fa硤e is characterized by the three gables and by the arcades which contain the two portals. On the sides the arcade contain mullioned windows with three or four lights. In the upper part you will see pinnacles, spires and tabernacles made by the school of Giovanni Pisano. The inside is well-lighted and is divided into the nave and the presbytery by three arches. As it had been built on a lower ground level, the church was dismantled in 1871 and then rebuilt where it stands today.

The Chartreuse of Calci

It was founded in 1366 and from the end of the XIV century it must have been a sort of permanent building site.In the XVII century the Great Cloister was transformed by the Pisan architect Gian Battista Cartoni and the friar Feliciano Bianchi from Siena. The work was carried out between 1636 and 1651 while the entry vestibule was constructed in 1672.During the following century many artists and craftsmen came here to fresco the church walls, workmen from Carrara carved the marble and renovated the church facade, in 1718 Angelo Maria Somazzi came from Livorno to stucco the church, the chapels and the guest quarters.Also the state appartments, the main staircase, the communal rooms and the boundary were reconstructed and decorated. These works carried out in the XVIII century drew together and unified the internal spaces built in stages from the XIV to the XVIII centuries, integrating them in a dialectical relationship of art and nature, with the space outside.The rich decoration of this buiding involving every detail in its construction, makes the Pisa Chaterhouse one organic and homogeneous unity.Nowadays in the Charterhouse you can visit The historical and artistic Museum which tells of the life of the monks. Although part of the furnishing and utensils were lost following the suppression of the monastries under Napoleon in 1808, those closely connected with the places of worship and entertainment survived.The best of the paintings are to be seen above the altars; one exaple is “St. Bruno offering the Charterhouse to the Madonna” painted for the altar of the main church in 1681 by Baldassarre Franceschini, called “il Volterrano”. Many other works of artistic value were realized and still visible in this Museum of history and art that has been open to the public since 1973, when the monks handed the monastery back to the State, whose property it had been since 1808, when under Napoleon all ecclesiastical property was turned over to the State.The Pisa University Museum of Natural History and History of the District originated in the gallery founded in 1591 by Ferdinand I de’ Medici and annexed to the Botanical Gardens in Pisa. The museum was divided into indipendent sections and the collections were enlarged in continuation by the addition of new exhibits and with increasing amounts of material for Natural History research at the University of Pisa. When the Museum of Natural History and History of the District was founded in 1981, it reunited the old Museums of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, Mineralogy and Petrography, Geology and Paleontology under one roof, in the portion of the Pisa Charterhouse assigned by the State Properties to the University of Pisa.

The Pisa Botanic Garden

(Click on the image to enlarge) The Pisa Botanic Garden was founded in 1543 by Luca Ghini, a worthy physician and botanist from Croara, near Bologna, after accepting the Chair of Botany at Pisa University from the Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici.The garden had to be transferred in 1591 to its present site between Via Santa Maria and Via Roma, near the Cathedral square. It is the most ancient University Botanic Garden in Europe and today it’s of central importance in all sectors of research and teaching in plant biology and in the conservation of endangered species.Here you can see many plants of great historic and scientific value: a magnificent examplebald cypressThere is also one of the earliest example of iron-framed hothouse built in Italy, to house plants from hot climates.

The Natural Park of Migliarino, San Rossore, Massaciuccoli

This park stretches along the Tirrenian coastline and covers approximately 23,000 hectares. It includes San Rossore estate, Tombolo estate and coltano and Castagnolo farmlands, Migliarino estate and Vecchiano farmland, Borbone estate and Lucca bush land , and Massaciuccoli lake and marshland.At first sight, the park is an immense woodland of stone-pines (Pinus Pinea) which are tipical of the Tuscan coastline. Inside the park there is a great variety of natural settings ranging from dunes to sandy shores and from hygrophilous forests to marshlands.Water, which is the prevailing element in the park, is the real key of comprehension of the area: bogs, ponds, ditches, swamps, channels interlace the woods of decidous and Mediterranean trees, creating a magnificent variety of habitats which attract a lot of different species of animals.Wild birds are plentiful: Lake Massacciuccoli hosts over 200 species of permanent, migratory and nesting birds, such as herons, egrets, wild ducks, moor-buzzards and stilt-plovers.

The fauna resident in the park includes great quantities of fallow deer and wild boars as well as other mammals such the fox , hedgehog , dormouse, badger and squirrel.The flora is particularly interesting and includes many rare botanical species like the sun-dew (a small carnivourus plant), the periploca (an extremely rare liana), the marsh orchird, the pink hibiscus and the Royal or Florinda Fern.The best way to visit the park is to tatke advantage of the guided tours which may be chosen from walks, bicycle rides, horse treks, excursions in horse-driven carriages and in buses. The organized visits include nature trails, tour combining education and leisure and excursion aimed at the survey of historical and architectural emergencies occurring on the estate.You can get here from Pisa taking the SS1 Aurelia road (north of the Arno river).

The coast-line

North and South of the mouth of the Arno (only 9 kilometres from Pisa), the coast-line stretches for miles and miles with wonderful beaches, extraordinarily pleasant for bathing. These magnificent sandy beaches are backed by lovely woods which give the sea-breezes their scent of pine and juniper.The Presidential Estate of San Rossore and Marina di Vecchiano cost occupy the right side, and on the left there are Marina di Pisa, with its nineteenth century appearance, and Tirrenia, two attractive sea-side resorts.

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