A Day in Pisa and Lucca

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I got thrilled right away to see Pisa on the itinerary for our honeymoon journey in Italy.  Then my excitement waned when I began to realize one thing.

“Oh no… Am I supposed to ‘lean’ on it, like everybody does?”

‘Lean’ on the Tower of Pisa.

When we speak about Italy, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is amongst the firsts that pop in our heads.  Pizza is another, but just because this Italian delicacy and the old city sound alike, I was tickled to death when I heard somebody claiming that pizza originated from Pisa. Mamma mia!

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It would have been a disgrace especially to the one who built it, purely because the Tower of Pisa is an architectural mistake. Interestingly though, this miscalculation had actually brought a symbol of civic pride.  Especially for most cheeky tourists nowadays, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the perfect muse to practice the art of ‘forced perspective.’

Here's just a few from hundreds of 'perspective photo shoots' you can find around the Pisa tower. It's finding your inner creativity, so to speak. (Click on the image to see some more)
Here’s just a few from hundreds of ‘perspective photo shoots’ you can find around the Pisa tower. It’s finding your inner creativity, so to speak. (Click on the image to see some more)

Known as Torre Pendente di Pisa in Italian, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually different than most medieval architecture.

Upon seeing the tower, the first thing that came to my mind is the geeky anecdote on the famous Galileo.  One of his pupils told the story about him dropping two balls of different masses from the Leaning tower of Pisa, to demonstrate that their time of descent was independent of their mass.

There was no account by the genius himself of such thought experiment, so most historians believe that it never took place, more or less as the student described it!  In his book On Motion though, Galileo outlined his famous thought experiment, thus arriving at his hypothesis:

Imagine two objects, one light and one heavier than the other one, are connected to each other by a string.  Drop this system of objects from the top of a tower.  If we assume heavier objects do indeed fall faster than lighter ones (and conversely, lighter objects fall slower), the string will soon pull taut as the lighter object retards the fall of the heavier object.  But the system considered as a whole is heavier than the heavy object alone, and therefore should fall faster.  This contradiction leads one to conclude the assumption is false.

I felt the geek in me wanting to climb up to the top, and try Galileo’s ‘urban legend-slash-experiment’ myself!

Piazza del Miracolli is the square in Pisa where you can find this famous sight, but the Leaning Tower is not alone.  As a matter of fact, it is not even the oldest building.  The cathedral and the baptistery were really the first monuments built on the piazza.

Built in the 11th century, the Pisa Duomo is the largest and main feature of the Piazza del Miracolli, and the cathedral to which the bell tower (now leaning) belongs.

Located right next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the Baptistery of St. John, which was constructed in the 12th century.  Both monuments are as stunning and very ornamental, so it is worth spending the time to admire all of the artistic details.

After getting the most out Piazza del Miracoli, we visited another Tuscan town not so far from Pisa.  It is a walled city as a matter of fact, hence it intrigued me.

Get lost in the walled city of Lucca.

Seeing Lucca from afar quickly reminded me of Intramuros in Manila.  Both of its fortified walls were built many centuries ago, have endured years of war and destruction, and have been rebuilt and preserved over time.

What is more endearing with Lucca though is its cobbled streets, handsome piazzas and relaxing promenades hidden behind imposing Renaissance walls.

It’s actually a more off-the-beaten-path path experience in Tuscany.

Lucca’s long history goes back to Etruscan and ancient Roman times, but its great era was during the Gothic period when much of its marvelous architecture was built.

tuscany sept 20131

For one, the city’s defensive walls were designed by Leonardo Da Vinci and impressively were never breached.  Nowadays, the top of these broad walls is a pleasant ring park where everyone can enjoy walking and biking.   Lucca remained an independent city state until the end of the 18th century.

We just wanted to stroll aimlessly, and still we surprisingly found ourselves coming in these pretty sights in Lucca.

Or should I say, these beautiful places found us!

Piazza dell’Amfiteatro

The very symbol of Lucca and the center of town life today, Piazza dell’Amfiteatro was initially built as an amphitheatre as the center of entertainment outside the Roman town.  With 54 arches and a cavea able to hold as many as ten thousand spectators, the amphitheatre of Lucca was such an imposing structure created for spectacles and gladiator games.

Centuries hereafter its function ended and terraced houses were built on the surviving ruined structures.  It was gradually built with buildings variously used as salt warehouse, powder magazine, prison hall and finally shops and eating places.  By the 19th century, the value of the ancient space was restored making the amphitheatre a fundamental structure for the urban development of the town.

Torre dei Guinigi

Best known for its hanging garden on the roof of the tower, the Guinigi Tower is the most important tower in Lucca and a must-visit indeed.  Going up the tower, you’ll come to admire Lucca’s architectural jewels from above.

The Guinigi family, who were rich merchants and a leading family of the town, has their mansions straddling along via Sant’Andrea and via Guinigi, thus showcasing a classic example of Romanesque-Gothic Lucca architecture.

Symbolizing rebirth, the holm oaks were placed at the top of the tower by the family with the aim of giving a refined look on the tower.  Especially in a period when numerous bell-towers were going up within the city walls, the towers were likewise an emblem of prestige of the richest families.

Duomo di San Martino and San Michele in Foro

Lucca Cathedral and San Michele in Foro are the interesting churches in Lucca that you can sit down and enjoy beautiful Gothic and Romanesque fascades.  I personally like San Michele in Foro – it looks like a wedding cake!

Passeggiata delle Mura

The nice way to end the tour around the city wall of Lucca is strolling around Passeggiata delle Mura, which is literally ‘the walk on the walls’ in English.  Lucca’s 12-meter high city walls were built snugged around the old city, defended by 126 canons and crowned with a wide, silky-smooth footpath.

This 4-kilometer long circular footpath gives you a glimpse of local Luccese life.

My Travel Notes
How we got there…
 From Cinque Terre, we drove to Pisa for an hour.  After our stay in Pisa, off we drove to Lucca for a quick 30 minutes.

If you don’t have a car, here’s also an extra tip – how to get to Pisa and Lucca by plane and train:

Pisa has regular trains to and from Florence (usually three per hour), to and from Lucca (usually every hour) and is also accessible by bus, and has an international airport. Yup, Pisa Galileo Galilei Airport is the main airport of Tuscany and is served by several airlines operating hundreds of weekly flights to national and international destinations.

Where we stayed for the next 4 days in Tuscany…

Restored in 2012, Villa Sermolli dates back to the 16th century, and is set in a park with panoramic terraces and citrus groves.  Rooms and apartments are rustic and elegant, and some offer views of the Tuscan hills.  We stayed in a one-bedroom apartment with a garden for ourselves!

Accommodation can be in the main building or one of the annex buildings.  It has traditional terracotta floors and some rooms come with frescoed ceilings and period furniture.

tuscany sept 20133 
tuscany sept 20134

The villa features an antique kitchen with a large fireplace and wood-burning stove, ideal for making pizza and grills.  The wine cellar is stocked with the best Tuscan wines.  The villa also serves dinner on their terrace.  So on our first night in Tuscany, we had our first taste of Florentina steak, a bottle of Tuscan reds, delicate smell of olive trees all around and a skyline view of Tuscany.

tuscany sept 20135 
tuscany sept 20136 

Villa Sermolli is set just outside the village of Buggiano Castello.  The Montecatini Terme Thermal Baths are a 15-minute drive away.

What we did in Tuscany…
  • Visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it!
  • Get lost in a maze-like walled city of Lucca.  Discover its Renaissance and Gothic architectural jewels.
  • Get mesmerized on the grandeur of Florence.  Spoiler alert – I’ll share my top 10 must-see spots in Florence on my next blogpost!
  • Relish on the famous and much appreciated Tuscan cuisine. Simple, rustic dishes made from seasonal ingredients.  Tuscan cooking is mostly made with poor basic ingredient and comes from a long and ancient tradition.  Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most important ingredients that comes in almost every Tuscan dish.

Here’s so far a shortlist of Tuscan dishes and delicacies that are worth a try:  ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, panzanella, pane e fagioli, fagioli all’uccelletto, prosciutto, salami, finnochiona, cinghiale, lepre, daino, arista, pollo alla diavola, cacciucco, bottarga, castagnaccio, pecorino, cantuccini, zuccotto, torta della nonna, buccellato, pane con l’uva, bistecca fiorentina…  And of course, pasta and lasagna done in countless ways!

  • Eat (and drink) like an Italian.  A typical Tuscan meal usually starts with a great variety of salami and cured meats. Then  follow lasagna or pasta; then it’s the turn of fish or meat with side dishes, then fruit, and finally a cake or dessert, usually homemade.  Of course, no excuse to skip Tuscan wines!
  • Relax in historic thermal bath of Monsummano.  Formed thousands of years ago in the calm of the age-old park at Monsummano Terme, Grotta Guisti is so enchanting that the composer Giuseppe Verdi defined it “the eighth wonder of the world”.

Its 3 caverns form a real and proper natural Turkish bath – the temperature ranges from 24C in the Paradiso cavern, passing through Purgatorio to reach 34C in the Inferno cavern.

The warm damp vapours, rich in mineral salts, favour a process of purification and detoxification, which allows you to regain your psyschological and physical balance, as well as giving you an immediate sensation of well-being.

We’ve only had a quick taste of Tuscany.  There’s just so many charming towns to discover!

Tuscany may have been playing favorites through their art cities such as Florence, Siena, Pisa and Lucca.  Nonetheless, its countryside never missed the charm with its towns, villages, hills, castles and vineyards.

It’s actually more enjoyable to get lost in the small roads and discover these hidden gems – beautiful and ancient towns where you feel a different atmosphere from everywhere else!

Then don’t miss visiting the best beach towns in Tuscany as well…


WHAT’S YOUR STORY ?

Would you like to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and go around the city walls of Lucca?
If ever you’ve been in these cities, did you enjoy your visit?

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