Our First Italian Road Trip: Pisa

Pisa is about 3 1/2 hours from Vicenza, Italy.  We had planned to spend the night, but, alas, last minute planning which left few hotel options available and children who seem to think we’re kidding about doing school work in a timely fashion forced us to make this a day trip.  A long, tiring day trip.  7 hours in the car, 7 hours in Pisa.

The first thing that struck me as we approached the town was how isolated the Tower, the Cathedral and the Baptistry are.  In many towns, these important structures are in the heart of the city with other buildings crowding in close.  In Pisa, the densest sections of the city are to the south, and these structures are well separated by a lovely green space called the Field of Miracles.

The Cathedral, or Duomo, was built first, and was consecrated in 1118 (yes, that’s nearly 900 years ago).  The Baptistry was built between 1152 and 1363.  The Tower was started in 1173 and started leaning as early as 1178.  It is typical for churches in Europe at this time to have these three separate structures: church, baptistry and bell tower.

We arrived in plenty of time to attend Mass, although Bill sat outside with the dog and went to the evening Mass instead.  Non-prayers had to wait in line and go in the main doors with a ticket, but pilgrims could go through the Door of Mercy.  No lines for mercy, people.  Lines for gawking, no lines for praying.  Non-Catholic friends who do not like to wait in line: please note that nobody checks your I.D. or asks for the secret Catholic handshake.  Go in, sit, enjoy.


John 10:9 I am the door.

The cost to go into the Tower was 18 euros, so we declined.  Personally, I had little desire to go up.  They say it’s safe, yet it is leaning more than 17 feet from the vertical.  It doesn’t look safe to me.  There was also a charge to go into the Baptistry and the cemetery, so we didn’t do those either.  I heard, later, that the Baptistry is the best thing in Pisa.  Maybe next time.

After Mass, we went to lunch, and after lunch, we watched many people taking their riposo (nap) on the grass by the Baptistry.  The Duomo was closed during riposo, which seems to be typical throughout Italy.  Except for gray skies and an occasional drizzle, it was a lovely day.

Everybody takes pictures of themselves or their loved ones either holding the Tower up, or pushing it down.  It’s the thing to do.  It’s very hard to line up seven children…much easier to do one or two people.

After we decided to not climb the Tower, we thought we would head over to the church of Santa Maria della Spina (St. Mary of the Thorn).  This church once held a thorn from Christ’s crown.  Once.  We didn’t know that until we got there, and the church was locked anyway.  It was a 15 minutes walk through town and across the Arno River.  We took a different path back towards the Duomo to see more of Pisa.

The church of St. Catherine of Alexandria was not locked, and we were able to go inside.  Bill thought the unlit interior felt empty and sad.  It certainly was dark, but it helped me to imagine what it would have been like to attend Mass there before electricity.  I didn’t take any pictures, but this link shows the beautiful altar windows which were one of the few things one could see inside.



St. Apollonia

We also passed a small church which happened to be the church of St. Apollonia, for whom I have a special devotion.  I only grabbed a quick shot of the exterior.  The interior was closed, but the note on the door announced that there would be a Latin Mass that evening.  If I were more familiar with the TLM, that would have been nice.  I would have liked to see the Baroque interior.


Palazzo della Carovana

The last part of Pisa we wanted to see was the Piazza dei Cavalieri, or Knights’ Square.  I learned later that the church on this square, Santo Stefano, has banners captured during the Battle of Lepanto.  I really could have done better research before taking this trip!  I suspect, though, that no matter how much research I do, there will always be things that are missed.  It was in this square that Florence announced to the citizens of Pisa that they were now a conquered city.  The Palazzo della Carovana, pictured above, had been the Palace for the Knights of St. Stephen (who brought home the banners from Lepanto) but is now part of a university (according to Wikipedia, the university was founded by Napoleon).


Some of the buildings near the Duomo


Part of the walls surrounding the Duomo


These gates lead to the Jewish Cemetery.


Mail slot.


George holding up the Tower. I don’t think he will succeed.


A plant growing in a wall crevice.


They really are not going to allow those dead people to get out.


This is how my men riposo.


Waiting for Godot.


A random door.


Chasing the 4 yo.


A neat building.


Across from St. Apollonia.

Just throwing in some other pictures from our trip.  Our final stop was to eat some gelato, and then 8 of us headed back to the van, exhausted, while Bill went to Mass.  The evening Mass had been listed as beginning at 5 pm, but, as we had been warned, the posted time is not always the actual time that things begin.  It actually began at 6 pm, so we waited, and even the dog passed out from all the walking.