From there (museo delle sincopie) we walked to and around the leaning tower. Construction on the tower had begun in 1173 and it started to lean early on in its life as it was being constructed on marshy ground. A century later efforts were made to compensate for the tilt by building the upper floors with one side taller than the other. The bell chamber was finally added in 1372.
“This astonishing Bell-Tower which appears to lean so much from outside, and yet from the interior it appears straight” (C. Goldoni, 1745). The unusual inclination of the Tower has determined its immense fortune since the Middle Ages. The cylindrical structure, which is empty inside and has a stair case between the two walls began to sink into the marshy ground around 1190. At that time only the first three orders were built. The Tower was conceived as a belfry and the sculptor Biduino and his workshop was probably responsible for its decoration…. In the Middle Ages representation of animals and therefore those on the Tower was used to protect sacred buildings from evil spirits. The marble marquetry decoration of geometrical Islamic designs belongs to this stage of work.
Construction on the tower was halted for some decades. When work recommenced, the architects in charge of the building decided to lengthen the height of the columns placed on the leaning side, in an attempt to counteract its list. At this stage different materials were used, the original white marble was replaced by a darker and irregular stone; both were mined in the quarries on the hills around Pisa.
At the complation of the sixth and last order of loggias on 15 March 1298, Giovanni, Nicola Pisano’s son, climbed up the Tower and lowered the plumb line outside and inside the building. This was the first measurement of the Tower’s inclination to be documented. For this reason, the top of the bell tower, which is surmounted by the terrace, is attributed to Giovanni Pisano.”
Then we visited the duomo (cathedral itself). Founded in 1064 it was finally consecrated in 1118. “The outer facing of the cathedral is decorated in alternating black and white shades in stripes of Arab influence and a massive use of reused materials from Roman monuments that emphasised the greatness of the city of Pisa, “altera Roma”.”
From the cathedral we passed into the Camposanto (cemetery). “Designed as a church in which the uncovered nave enclosed, as a holy relic, the “holy land” brought from Palestine at the time of the second Crusade, the cemetery was built and largely decorated in the 14th century, Pisa’s last great century before Florence’s occupation. Large frescoed scenes alternate on the outer walls”. There are stories of Job, stories of Saint Ranieri (a rich merchant of Pisa who died in 1160), stories from Genesis and the old testament as well as stories of local saints. “Since the 16th century the cemetery sheltered the sepulchres of the most prestigious lecturers of the local university and the members of the Medici family, who ruled over the city at that time”. The cemetery was to become one of the principal destinations for 18th century travellers, artists and men of letters.
Camposanto means cemetery but it bore no relation to a typical English cemetery. It consisted of an extraordinary four-sided cloister surrounding a lawn, which with its marble façade closes, on the north side, the “Piazza dei Miracoli” (Miracle square) which had been conceived for the burial of the dead and the instruction of the living, who were asked to ponder life on earth and the eternal one through the magnificent series of frescoes whose preparatory sketches we had already seen in the Museum of Sincopie. Here were commemorative and funerary monuments dedicated to the city nobles as well as graves sunk into the pavement together with a collection of roman sarcophagi. Small chapels led off these galleries. There were a number of beautiful statues atop some of the graves.