I spent only three quarters of an hour in Pisa (we arrived at the end of the day, just at sunset and after the church was closed to visitors) but I am very glad to have gone there. The spot is ineffably touristy – more busloads of camera toting travelers than I’ve seen anywhere but Rome (more on that later) and the idea of the “Leaning Tower” is pretty kitchy but in person … its imposing.
It … leans.
Then once you get over the tipping tower, the beauty of the whole Piazza del Duomo starts to clamor for attention. The space is a physical remnant of the height of Pisa’s power and fame which began and ended in the 11th century. The Cathedral, Babtistery, Cloisters and Tower are each clad in such a riot of white marble detail work that the eye boggles. The overall effect is stunning but its actually when I relaxed and looked closer that I really fell in love with the construction. Despite the symmetry and overall whiteness, the buildings are not renaissance, but medieval. A fact which is clearly shown in the patchwork nature of the marble block in some of the less important facades. When you look closely there are areas of the wall done in regular stone block as well as many pieces of marble cribbed from other, older, structures. Scroll down to enjoy plenty of upside down and sideways Roman text on the medieval catholic church.