Top 4 Things to Know About Pisa, Italy
First things first… here’s a quick 60-second travel diary from our day in Pisa!
Pisa was one of the stops on Viking Cruise’s Mediterranean Odyssey Itinerary. Something to note about the cruise itself, you are not docked in Pisa because Pisa is not a port city. The ship docks about 30-45 minutes away, but you take a beautiful bus ride through Tuscany to get to Pisa. No complaints here!
Now that all of that’s out of the way, here are the top 4 things we think you should know about Pisa, Italy.
ONE - Street Vendors + Shops
Pisa is a tiny, tiny town in Tuscany. When you arrive it doesn’t look like much. The bus parks and you take a little walk through a neighborhood and then arrive at the one main street in Pisa.
It’s lined with street vendor after street vendor selling your typical tourist-y stuff. There are umbrellas, bags, shirts, and the whole nine yards. But not every vendor is created equal.
You will see some vendors set up under tents. They’re similar to the ones you’d find at your local farmer’s market. These vendors are licensed and LEGAL.
Then you will see some (usually men) walking around with items on their arms, in carts and in bags. These vendors are not licensed and are ILLEGAL. Yes, illegal as in if you’re caught (by the police) purchasing merchandise from them both you and the vendor will be fined up to 7,000 Euros. And you better believe that as soon as the cops show up that vendor will be gone like a bat out of you know where and you’ll be standing there, holding the illegal goods and risking a hefty fine.
Do. Not. Risk. It.
If you want to purchase from any of the street vendors, pay attention! Only buy from the ones in the farmer’s market like tents.
Otherwise there are two main stories just down the street from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. These shops are large and have everything you could want including beautiful, authentic Italian leather bags (made in Florence). We purchased our souvenirs (and bags) from B. B. Maison S.A.S. Of Giusfredi Daniela & C.
TWO - Crowds
After you’ve weaved through the crowds of people on main street, you’ll come to what looks like a giant gate. It’s actually the original walls of Pisa’s fortress. Once you walk through it’s like you’ve entered another world.
The street vendors are gone.
The concrete has been replaced with fields of gorgeous green grass.
You’re in the Piazza dei Miracoli. The Square of Miracles.
And then you see them. The three famous buildings.
The Catholic Cathedral of Pisa.
And the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Angels are singing.
But the crowds are also shoving.
We went in July/August and there were thousands upon thousands of people lined up to get that iconic catching or kicking the Leaning Tower photo. You could be waiting several hours to get the perfect shot.
We opted to skip that one, but if you’re dying for that shot, the best location is along the fence across from the Basilica. The farther you are from the tower the more realistic your shot will look.
THREE - Proper Attire
If you plan on visiting the Cathedral (which we highly recommend!) it is important to know that it is still a fully functioning church. They hold services every week and it is still considered a holy place. This means that everyone who enters, male or female, is required to wear proper attire.
Shoulders and knees must be covered.
When we went in we had on tank tops and bermuda shorts. The straps weren’t spaghetti straps and the shorts just grazed the tops of our knees. The security guard let us in without a problem.
If you’re inspected and found to be unfit to enter, don’t worry, they won’t send you away. They’ll give you a poncho that looks like something you’d get at the hospital. It’s blue and papery, but it covers all necessary body parts.
If you don’t want to wear the poncho, make sure your shoulders and knees are covered.
Also something to note, you do need tickets to enter. Viking had already arranged everything for us
FOUR - The Baptistery
Unlike the Cathedral, the Baptistery is no longer in use. However, in its day it was a beautiful and sacred place. It’s where parents took their babies to be baptized so they could be made pure enough to enter the Cathedral. Quite a special moment.
It was designed so that the rain would come through a hole in the rotunda and fall into the area where the baptisms were held. Once everyone had been cleansed, they would release the water and it would drain out of the building by way of the sloped floors.
Since it no longer functions as a Baptistery you may be wondering what they do with it.
As you can see from pictures, the top of the building is rounded, like a rotunda. What you can’t see is that it’s actually doubled (kind of like an insulated cup). So there is the rounded dome outside that comes to a point and then inside there is another dome (without a point). This creates a stunning echo.
So, every thirty minutes, a woman sings and instead of hearing one voice it’s like you’re listening to a choir.
We got the chance to experience this and CHILLS! It was absolutely beautiful. You can hear it in the video we linked above.
Something interesting about the Cathedral… if you scroll through the pictures above you’ll see what looks like a dead body. It is a dead body.
We actually thought we’d walked into a funeral! But it’s actually Pisa’s patron saint, Saint Rainerius. To answer the question you definitely have… yes that is his real body.
Something interesting about the Square of Miracles… it’s designed to show the human lifecycle.
When you walk into the square, there is a building to your right. It used to be a hospital. That’s where your natural life begins.
Then you’re baptized in the beautiful Baptistery. That’s where your spiritual life begins.
You go to church at the Cathedral where your natural and spiritual lives are lived out.
Back to the hospital where your natural life ends.
On the opposite side of the buildings there is a cemetery. Your eternal resting place.
Final fact… all of the buildings are signed by the designer and builder, except the tower. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was supposed to be a bell tower and it was in operation until 1990. It’s not signed because he was ashamed. Ashamed of the dramatic leaning. Everyone hated it. Thought it was a disgrace. If only they could’ve seen into the future. Millions of people flock to it for photo-ops every year.
If you look at the span of buildings, you’ll actually see that they’re all leaning. It’s because of the soil. Everything is sinking. The tower just happened to sink faster.
In another hundred years the tower may not be standing, so make sure you get to Pisa before then!
Thanks for reading our ‘top 4 things you need to know before visiting Pisa’! Make sure to watch our travel diary (linked above).
Have you been to Pisa? Let us know in the comments if you have and if you have any thing you would add to our list!
And a huge thank you to our loyal Patron… Sylvia Vasquez Plexus.
Make sure you check out the itinerary for this cruise… Viking Mediterranean Odyssey