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Exploring Pisa!

travel Updated: Sep 23, 2010 15:25 IST
Highlight Story

Why does the tower lean? In school I was told that its foundations were not correctly built. 

Pisa is located on soft soil. It stands in a laguna area between the river Arno and the Serchia river as they empty into the Liguarian sea. When the tower was built, the calculations were not quite correct, so it began to tilt and gave Pisa its unique identity.

But Pisa is an old city, much older than the tower. In the 11 th century, it rose to prominence as a great maritime power. It fought many naval battles and won most of them. Its merchant fleet and navy were both very powerful. However in the late 12th century, Genoa overtook it as the dominant naval power of Italy.

Pisa airport serves a multitude of towns and cities in Tuscany. It has its own station, Pisa Aeropuerto. The city is served by Pisa Centrale station.

Right outside the station, you can take an orange line bus which will loop around the city and after a half hour ride, bring you to the Piazza del Miraculi. It is a good opportunity to see a part of the city as well as some of the outlying farms. Three old ladies dressed in black and carrying rosaries took the bus from one of the farms. Yes, they were going to pray at the Duomo and I was welcome to accompany them. I heaved a sigh of relief that I was not on a wild goose chase going everywhere except the leaning tower.

The Piazza dei Miraculi is so called because a number of miracles have been reported here. The church has been built using stones from Roman ruins which stood here in antiquity, You can still see the Roman inscriptions on some of the outer wall stones. Many of them are upside down, because that was the only way they would go in, the guide said.

The entire Piazza dei Miraculi is surrounded by a tall wall with gates on three sides. A dazzling emerald green lawn leads to the duomo. The side of the lawn is lined with about a hundred stalls selling curios and at least fifty of them are run by entrepreneurs from Bangladesh.

Which came first, the tower of the church? The church did. It stood for a hundred years but without a tower. So a rich benefactress bequeathed her entire fortune to the church with injunctions to build a bell tower. It took over two hundred years to build as church priorities changed, funds ran out, more funds were collected. The tower got built a bit at a time. In the process it began to tilt. In the last twenty years, a major restoration work has been undertaken to strengthen the foundations.

Exit the Piazza dei Miraculi towards Galileo's house. This where he was born and spent a part of life. The route is lined with shady cafes and shops. Horse drawn carriages will take you for a clip clop ride round the square. Pisa is also hosts the University of Pisa, well known for its Departments of Physics, Maths and Computer Science.

Art lovers, do visit the Museo dell opera dell Duomo. It has some amazing sculptures by Nicolo Pisano and Giovani Pisano. The Pallazzo della Carovana's imposing façade was designed by Giorgio Vasari.

Being near the sea, Pisan cuisine has a lot of fish. Dried cod in a sweet and sour sauce is the local speciality. So is Cozze Riplene--stiffed mussels. Drink the Chinati Delle Colline Pisano.

Dr.Ajjanta Chakravarty is a management consultant and an avid globe trotter. She can be reached at

ajjanta@ajjanta.com

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