The Leaning Tower of Pisa and More

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By Luci Lizares

Thursday, July 24, 2014

THE reason most of us go to Pisa is to see the Leaning Tower. Right? But to my surprise and awe, there was more to Pisa than the tower.

While this Bell Tower is the signature of the place, the Piazza del Duomo now known as the Piazza dei Miracoli hosts fabulous art and architecture, which truly deserves applause.

Unlike most piazzas in Italy, which are paved, this piazza is a vast, well-manicured grassy field of green. The two other monuments that dominate the Medieval Complex are the Cathedral and the Baptistery. These are all in luminous stone and white marble and they are marvelous whether from a distance or up close.


The Leaning of Pisa is a freestanding Bell Tower for the Cathedral, which took 344 years to build. Would you believe that it began leaning in 1178 when the construction was just on the second floor? The soft ground is believed to be the cause of the leaning. The construction stopped twice for over 100 years due to war.

On the side where the tower leans and the high side is a difference of a foot and 27 inches. There are 294 steps on the north side and 296 on the south side of the tower. There are seven bells in the tower to represent each note in the musical scale and they are found in the 8th floor.

Since 2008, engineers have declared that the tower had stopped leaning on one side. Because of this, there are suggestions to have the tower straightened but if they do so, the tower will lose its charm and more so, its global identity and appeal of a leaning tower.

In around 1590 Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), a native of Pisa, climbed up the Leaning Tower and dropped two balls of different masses, but of similar shape and density. Upon release, both hit the ground at the same time. This confirmed his Law of Gravity.

In the Medieval Complex is the Baptistery dedicated to San Giovanni. Its construction spanned 200 years. It is the largest Baptistery in the entire country of Italy. The Baptistery is most famous for its perfect acoustics. One can stand below the edge of the dome and sing a note for several seconds, and the sound will travel around and around the dome for many more seconds. Choir concerts held inside can be heard from miles away. Not visible to the naked eye, the Baptistery likewise leans 0.6 degrees towards the cathedral.

The heart of the Piazza del Duomo or Miracoli is the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Pisa dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta (St. Mary of the Assumption). The Cathedral symbolizes the maximum expression of Pisan Romanesque architecture. The Cathedral has many influences of various styles and cultures: Byzantine as well as Islamic components.

The church also contains the bones of St Ranieri, Pisa’s patron saint and the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII and Pope Gregory VIII. There are relics believed to have been brought in during the Crusades. The remains of three saints—Abibo, Gamaliel and Nicodemus—are also found here. One vase is believed to be one of the jars of the Wedding in Cana. Just like the Baptistery, the Cathedral has tilted slightly since its construction.

While the other cousins were roaming around, Dido and I decided to offer Mass and we were quite surprised to see a parade of so many priests. Even the Archbishop was concelebrating the Mass. We were elated to discover that it was the 950th anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral. What a blessing! Thank you Lord!

An interesting scientific note about the Cathedral is that Galileo is believed to have formulated his theory about the movement of a pendulum by watching the swinging of the incense lamp hanging from the ceiling on the nave of this Cathedral.
In the 19th century, Pisa was the host town for many artists, an excellent university town and home to some of the most prestigious academies in the world.

.Today, the University of Pisa is Italy’s 10th oldest university and ranks among the top universities in Europe. It counts five popes on its list of prestigious alumni.

The Piazza del Miracoli sets itself apart from the usual crowded cathedrals and other important structural highlights beside it because it is landscaped in a sea of green. It has a very calming effect the moment you enter the gates. UNESCO has described it as “an outstanding Medieval Christian Complex” and truly it is.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on July 24, 2014.


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