8 May 2018:
Livorno, Italy:
Gateway to Florence, Pisa, and Tuscany

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

We’re here in the city of Livorno, Italy’s second-largest port (after Genoa.)

I’ve been to Livorno many times and I always find it interesting, perhaps because almost all tourists have headed elsewhere, mostly to its famous inland neighbors: Pisa, Florence, Lucca, and Sienna among them.

Livorno, home to about 160,000 today, was considered an ideal, or model town during the Italian Renaissance, among a small number of Italian towns that was actually planned.

At the end of the 17th century it was within fortified town walls—a few still stand—and crossed by navigable canals.

LIVORNO

On this visit, we stayed in town and made a pilgrimage to an unusual church: very unassuming on the outside, with an unadorned exterior around its octagonal core. Within, something very different.

The church of Santa Catarina was completed in 1753 in the New Venice district. Its dome is 63 meters or 207 feet., higher than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The altar includes a painting by Giorgio Vasari.

FLORENCE

Florence is just under two hours northeast by car or train.

It is a place that is famous for the its amazing art and architecture, and it never fails to deliver on that promise.

At its center is the Basillica di Santa Maria dei Fiori, begun in 1296 and completed in 1436. It is topped by Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome, one of the world’s largest, and for that reason it is known as Il Duomo, the dome.

PISA

Then there’s this city with the defective tower. (The Tiltin’ Hilton, as it was nicknamed by American G.I.s who were tasked with taking the city from German occupiers and somehow managed to do so without destroying the tower.)

Pisa is on the right bank of the junction of two rivers, the Arno and the Serchio, a city of about 87,500.

In 1063 admiral Giovanni Orlando, coming to the aid of the Norman king Roger I, liberated Palermo from the Saracen pirates.

The gold he took from the Saracens allowed the Pisans to start building a cathedral.

The Tower of Pisa is the campanile, or freestanding bell tower, of Pisa’s Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo).

Construction began in 1173.  Almost immediately, the tower began leaning to the southeast.

The reason was quickly apparent: an insubstantial foundation on loose and wet soil.

Construction halted for almost a century.

In 1272, construction resumed. To try to compensate for the tilt, engineers built upper floors with one side taller than the other.

The tower began to lean in the other direction. Because of this, the tower is actually curved, banana-like.

The seventh floor was completed in 1319, and the chamber with seven bells added in 1372.

On January 7, 1990, after several heart-stopping sudden shifts, the tower was closed to the public. The bells were removed to take some weight off the top, and cables were fastened around the third level and anchored several hundred yards away.

The tower was straightened slightly by removing soil beneath the raised end.

In May 2008, engineers removed even more earth from the high side of the tower, and they declared it had been stabilized to the point where it had stopped moving for the first time in its history.

Prior to the restoration, the tower leaned 5.5 degrees.

Today the tower tilts a mere 3.99 degrees southwest.

As corrected, the top of the tower is 12 feet, 10 inches (3.9 meters) from where it would be if the tower were perfectly vertical.

All photos and text Copyright 2018 by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

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