Category: Italy, Pisa.

Fine Art & Antiques: Pisa of art and history

By Dr. Lori

The Italian town of Pisa was not only home to the scientist Galileo and other luminaries but it served as a major maritime center and was a wealthy medieval city. Not far from Florence, Pisa is a 30-minute drive from the highly active, industrial port of Livorno in the heart of Tuscany. Fields of sunflowers, rolling hills and Renaissance buildings dot the landscape.

In the medieval era, Pisa’s importance sparked the need for protection from its enemies coming from the sea. To that end, city walls were constructed to protect Pisa and its citizens. Within the walled city are buildings that have come to characterize this part of Tuscany. The three major buildings on the site that comprise the Square of Miracles or Piazza dei Miracoli are recognized as the main center for medieval art in the world. The main buildings are the baptistery recognizable from its massive dome, the marble-constructed Pisa cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary, with great bronze doors, and the famous bell tower with its unmistakable tilt. The area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

These buildings are some of the most impressive in the history of Western architecture. The baptistery was a major structure in medieval Pisa in close proximity to the cathedral and the leaning bell tower. All of which contribute to the sense of wonder in this historic square.

Visitors to the grand Pisa cathedral must abide by a strict dress code where shoulders and knees must be covered and hats removed. Silence is encouraged yet many muffled “oohs” and “ahhs” from visitors experiencing the fantastic works of art are often audible within the cathedral’s walls. Inside are many paintings that adorn the walls dating from the Renaissance to the 19th century. Originally built on a Greek-cross plan, the cathedral was enlarged centuries later. Today it features Moorish-inspired banded arches, grand columns and an expansive gilt ceiling. The cathedral’s dome is adorned with an illusionistic ceiling painting of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary dating to the flamboyant Italian baroque era. In a dramatic crescendo of form and color, the Virgin is lifted by numerous angels, putti and cherubs into the kingdom of heaven.

Why the Leaning Tower leans: the marshy soil of the ground, coupled with the weight of the marble construction materials contribute to the undeniable tilt that has plagued all the structures on the site for centuries. Three architects and numerous workers contributed to the world-famous tower, which began leaning shortly after the base and three stories were constructed in 1073. Over time, other architects and engineers worked on the famed tower and attempted to rectify the obvious tilt. Subsequent architects added stories of arcades to the tower and finally a cupola with bells topped the structure. Pisa’s bells are sounded infrequently using only a single bell. This practice was put into place in order to cut down on the movement and reverberations in the tower.

While visiting the site, I asked myself why what seemed like millions of tourists wanted to make a pilgrimage to Pisa to see arguably the biggest mistake in the history of architecture. Many visitors were posing for photographs in a manner that suggested they were singlehandedly stopping the great leaning tower from falling over. All in fun, even I joined in. So did Snoopy of “Peanuts” fame on a souvenir T-shirt.

In the early 2000s, the Leaning Tower of Pisa was stabilized and reopened to visitors. Visitors must climb a couple hundred steps to reach the top but the view from this sky-high vantage point is well worth the trek as the city of Pisa and Tuscany’s gorgeous landscape comes into full view.

A Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents antiques-appraisal events nationwide and hosts luxury cruises focusing on art and antiques. As seen on “The Tonight Show” and on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” watch her on the national TV morning show “Daytime.” Dr. Lori will appraise your antiques for free at the Suburban Fall Home Show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks Oct. 16 and 17. Visit and or call 888-431-1010.

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Category: Italy, Pisa
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