Monday 9 June 2014

italy week: square of miracles

Even for the Ancient Romans, Pisa was considered an old city and the glory and tumult comes through with its architecture. The chief draw—though there were many other treasures to discover, is of course the so-called Piazza dei Miracoli, which was began in the year 1076 and went through nearly two centuries of refinement before taking its present form but has always been an allegory of the life of man, beginning with a charity hospital in the front adjacent corner (now housing a museum) and across the lawn, a baptism fount, preceded by a cathedral, with its free-standing belfry to herald important events like marriages and funerals, and finally a peaceful and serene cemetery for the symbolic ensemble.
The tower was raised here despite warnings that the foundation was too weak to support such a structure, and I seem to recall that native son Galileo Galilei helped prove that gravity was a compounded constant by dropping and timing canon balls and prop wooden ones off the tower, whose exaggerated angle of pitch helped with the calculations—as well as being mesmerized by the pendulous motion of the incense chandelier in the Duomo so as to describe it mathematically and reverse-engineer periodicity.
This city on the confluence of the Arno and Serchio rivers—though without direct access to the sea—albeit the sea itself might have receded over the millennia, was a mighty maritime power, culling the marble for its showcase square from exploits in the Holy Land and recycling building materials from its conquests.
Pisa also had far-flung colonies in Jaffa and Constantinople among other places. Pisa lost prominence under constant one-upsmanship from the neighbouring sea-going republics of Genoa and Florence but fared better than others during the following economic collapse and unrest that came after the Crusades, by controlling the inland waterways that linked former rivals, spanning all the way from the Genovesi to the Venetians and profiting from trade and tariffs, and retaining its importance through the ages.