Lucca & Pisa: Tuscany pt. 3

We cruised over the mountains to the north of Pisa and visited the massively walled city of Lucca. Lucca was a textile rival city to Florence and Pisa. It seems that all these cities were violent rivals at one time or another. To protect itself Lucca built cannonball-proof walls. So impressive were these walls that no one ever dared to attack the city via the walls. Today the walls stand guard to the quaint streets, shops, homes, gelaterias, churches and towers of old Lucca. The walls are THICK. In a way they are the main attraction to the city. We even rented bikes and rode around the city atop these ancient ramparts. It sounds dangerous, but it’s like riding your bike on a two way street without any car traffic. You get tremendous views of the old city inside the walls and the new city that surrounds the walls.

We also wandered the streets in search of the old clock tower with hand wound Swiss movements that have been striking chimes quarter hourly now for about 200 years. Meg and the kids climbed the clock tower just in time for the chiming. They loved it. I had to stay down at ground level having retorn part of my calf muscle while jogging back from the bike rental shop. I hobbled around town at a snail’s pace. Later we made our way over to the remains of an old Roman amphitheater. All that are left are a few stones from an entryway arch. The current buildings were built upon the foundations from the old outer walls and form a circular “square” where the old arena floor would have been. It’s kind of fun to stand in the middle of this shopping area and imagine the gladiators duking it out over Italia sweatshirts and postcards.

Pisa was a pleasant surprise. What we had read was not all that complimentary about spending time here. Admitted, parking was a nightmare. In fact we failed at our first attempt to visit Pisa. We aimlessly wandered streets for about an hour before we gave up, had a picnic along the Arno River, and headed back home. We came back another day, having figured out how to actually enter the city, and had a great time. The main square, the Field of Miracles, was where we hung out. It is a vast grassy area inside the old city walls. We were all impressed that there was actually grass and that you could not only walk on it but picnic on it if you chose. Four huge structures spread out across this lawn: the Leaning Tower, the Duomo, the baptistery, and the mausoleum. The contrast of the clouds in the blue sky, the bright green lawn, and the white marbled buildings was dazzling. The Duomo church was beautiful inside and outside. The mosaics above the altar were my favorite. The complex represented the life cycle for Pisanos: baptized at birth in the Baptistery, married in the Duomo, and buried at the cemetery/mausoleum next door. The Tower was to function as the bell tower announcing all the events of this field. And yes, the Tower really is leaning. Actually, all the structures in this field lean to one side or another. I guess that’s what happens when you build on top of an old river marsh. Shortly after construction began on the tower, it was noted that the foundation was sinking on one side causing the structure to lean. Construction halted with only four stories of the building completed, and it sat unfinished for about 100 years. Another architect thought he could rectify the problem by angling the building back against its slant and built another three levels of the structure. This gave the Tower a banana-like curve but did nothing to stop the sinking and slant. It again sat unfinished for about 100 years. Yet another architect threw his energy into the project and finished the last couple of stories to this bell tower. Like his predecessor he angled the latest addition back against the slant, further accentuating the crescent shape of the structure. And it still continued to sink. Over the centuries the angle grew to such an extent that it was feared the Tower would topple over. It’s rumored that Galileo, a local Pisano, did his experiments with falling objects from the Tower. Eventually it was closed out of fear that it would fall. Over the past twenty years millions and millions of dollars have been spent to try and halt the continuing slump of the Tower, and engineers have been able to reverse a few inches of tilt. It is now open but costs a ridiculous 15 euros to enter. It is fun to look at from ground level and strike the typical tourist pose of trying to hold the Tower up.

Lucca Amphitheater

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