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Italy - Pisa and San Gimignano
Sunday, October 15, 2000; posted by Paris

Last week, Lisa and I met with my Aunt Anita and Uncle Joe for a tour of Italy. They know the country very well (from their many visits and study there), and speak the language - two things that would ensure a very good trip. We started in Pisa, then drove to San Gimignano, Siena, Rome, Florence, Lucca and back to Pisa. This took about 1 week and we were lucky enough to spend some time exploring each city. Uncle Joe and Aunt Anita planned the itinerary months in advance, making sure to get in as many sights as possible. It really paid off - we ate extremely well on this vacation and saw a great deal. Thanks to my aunt and uncle for all of their hard work and planning!

This set of pictures begins our trip in Pisa and San Gimignano. Within our fist few hours on the ground we toured the areas around the leaning tower of Pisa, the cathedral and baptistery. We had some tasty paninni's (sandwiches) and sweets at a local cafe. Then we strolled through the city. In the evening we drove to Isabella's house (a good friend of my aunt and uncle) and met her son Federico and had a very good home-made dinner.

The temperature during the whole trip was a comfortable 70 degrees and we encountered some rain, but not enough to spoil our fun.

The Campo dei Miracoli (The Square of Miracles) which is a wide-open space that contains the Baptistery, Cathedral and Tower of Pisa.

This is a view from our hotel in the center of Pisa.

A view inside the cathedral. Pisa was home to Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and inside the cathedral Galileo observed the swinging chandelier and discovered the pendulum effect (and some other term I forgot). The chandelier still remains.

Our first night in Italy/Pisa we were treated to an excellent meal and conversation with Isabella (left) - an old friend of my aunt's - and her son Federico (right). Lisa, Aunt Anita and Uncle Joe are in the middle.

A view of the tower and the cathedral. The tower began to lean almost as soon as it was built (the ground was too soft for the massive weight). As new levels were added, the engineers attempted to correct the tilt by building at an angle. However, the tower kept tilting and the engineers compensation actually caused it to have a curved banana shape (you can see this in the picture). The tower has been closed for 10 years while engineers remove the weak soil beneath it and attempt to put in a more solid foundation. In addition, the tower has a "girdle" of metal bands on its lower level where most of the stress exists. This is to prevent collapse of the tower on itself during this process.

This is the Piazza dei Cavalieri in Pisa, and the building is a government office where Ugolino and his family members were sealed in and left to die in the 1200's. Dante wrote about this in the Inferno. (Ugolino dell Gheradesca, whose story is told in Canto 33 of Dante's Inferno, was an Italian nobleman in the Guelph party who was made podesta of Pisa in 1284. In a conspiracy contrived by the Ghibelline Archbishop Ruggeri, Ugolino was accused of having betrayed his town by being negligent in battle. The Archbishop condemned him for his treasonous activities and had him locked up in a tower with his sons and grandsons. The entire male line, therefore, was left to starve to death. Dante tells the story of how Ugolino's children, bearing the unjust condemnation that was their fate offered to sacrifice their bodies to keep their father alive. Columbia Encyclopedia.)

Day Two - Towers of San Gimignano - home to a large collection of defensive towers (15 of 72 still remain). Throughout Tuscany, feuding Guelph (pro-Pope) or Ghibelline (pro-emperor) factions would fight each other using towers such as these. A family would build the tallest tower as possible for prestige. The narrow streets house many shops, restaurants and cafes. A tank scene in "Tea with Mussolini" was filmed here.

From the San Gimignano hillside, one has a beautiful view of the Tuscan valleys below.