Lucca and Pisa

November 6, 2019

Our last stop on the cruise was in the port of Livorno. The town dates back to neolithic times, and the Etruscans were virtual latecomers. But we saw very little of it. Our day was spent on a tour to Lucca and Pisa.

Lucca was founded by the Etruscans on the site of an earlier settlement in the third century BC. The name Luk meant "marsh." One of the main features of the town is the city wall that rather much serves to keep out traffic and preserve the nature of the oldest part of the city. Our bus parked outside the city gate, and we walked from there. We first visited San Martino Cathedral. It was begun in 1063. The exterior is in a style you will also see in Pisa. It is Romanesque, but has a lighter look than the usual heaviness we generally associate with the style.



This little chapel was built in 1484 to house the cathedral's most important relic, the Volto Santo di Lucca, carved by Nicodemus in Jerusalem. It was set adrift in an unmanned boat and washed up on the Tuscan shore. Wild oxen then carried it to Lucca. No one knows why.

Tintoretto’s Last Supper; not to be confused with his later painting in Venice

There are towers all around Lucca, and not just associated with churches. They were a sign of wealth, so noble families tried to outdo each other.

The San Giovanni Church was the first cathedral in town. Now it is a concert hall with nightly programs of Puccini.

The Church of San Michele is adorned with a statue of the archangel Michael himself. Long ago he would flap his wings on special occasions, with mechanical help.

Lucca has been home to composers and other musicians, including Luigi Boccherini. The most famous one was Giacomo Puccini. This statue is in the square near his birthplace, and the house is now a museum. His great-great-grandfather was maestro di cappella at the cathedral, succeeded by his great-grandfather, then his grandfather, and then his father. But Giacomo was only six when his father died, so much too young to take over. He served as a choir boy. He studied music in Lucca until he left for the Milan conservatory. After 1891 he spent most of his time when not traveling at a home in Torre del Lago, about fifteen miles from Lucca.

Puccini's birthplace and home, now a museum

The Church of San Frediano was built in 1112.

Other than at the main plazas, the streets are narrow and confusing. This street circles along the site of a Roman amphitheater. Inside is the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, which preserves that shape.

The Guinigi Tower has a garden on top with actual oak trees.

After a light lunch near where we were to gather, the guide took us back to the bus to head for Pisa. By the time we walked from the bus to the Field of Miracles, it was raining, but not very hard. I like this picture better than the usual photos of that location. The wet street and the bits of color help, as well as the perspective. In the foreground is the baptistery, the largest in Italy. On the left is the Composanto monumental cemetery. Dirt was brought from the Holy Land, supposedly from Golgotha, in the twelfth century, and the building was built over it. Beyond the baptistery is the cathedral, and next, of course, is the famous bell tower. The Pisa style of Romanesque is not heavy at all. All the buildings lean to some extent, so from some angles the tower may appear to be leaning more than it does. Of course when viewed from down this sidewalk beside it, it hardly seems to lean at all.

Pisa is a university town with 45,000 students. Galileo studied there and then later taught there.

Galileo was baptized in this baptistery. His father was a lutenist and music theorist who, according to Miles Hoffman on his one-minute radio feature, gave the theoretical justification for monody that lead to the development of opera as we know it. I will resist the temptation to put an essay here on the ironies of the development of Baroque music. His son's theories had more to do with motion in the universe and gravity and such, but he and at least one of his brothers learned to play the lute. The swinging of a lamp that hung in the cathedral was supposedly the inspiration for Galileo's understanding of the motion of pendulums. And we've all heard about his timing things of different weights that he dropped off the tower.

Galileo's right middle finger is on display in Florence, but we didn't go see it. So we don't know whether it is pointed toward Rome.

We were to meet at a restaurant down the street, and most of us got there before a big downpour. The guide offered to take us to see a bit more of the town, and some went. Torrey headed back to the cathedral and was able to go inside after the rain had got rid of most of the crowd. I stayed and drank hot chocolate, I think it was.

When we got back to the ship, it was time to finish packing to have our bag ready to put outside our cabin and get ready for our final night on board. We sailed back to Civitavecchia to end the cruise. We decided that we really didn't have time to do any more sightseeing, and so we didn't head back into Rome. The airport was a fairly straight shot south of us, so most of the time we had would have been spent just getting into Rome and then back out to the airport anyway. So we had booked with Norwegian the transfer directly to the airport from the ship. They put us on about the last bus, but that still meant we got to the airport hours before we could even check our bags.

Our flight didn't leave until 8:30 pm. Once we checked our bags and went through security, we were able to go to a food court kind of place. The airport was not a bad place to hang out. We just had way too much time on our hands. We boarded a British Airways flight to London. The seasonal non-stop to Charlotte had ended in October.

Two years earlier I had vowed that I would never fly into Heathrow again for the rest of my life. I turned out doing it three times in 2019. But we didn't have the usual arrival hassle because we got there so late at night. There was one guy checking passports, and by the time we had stopped for a restroom break and walked the seeming miles through concourses and to the train between terminals, we were the only customers he had left. I had worried that Brexit would have happened on October 31 and the airport folks wouldn't have their act together, but luckily that was postponed.

We had looked at options for staying the night in the airport, either renting some sort of accommodation or sleeping in the terminal, and ruled those out. I had made us a reservation at some flavor of Holiday Inn nearby. After walking a few more miles, we got to the area where there were free buses to the hotel. We waited for a while, and every other bus came by, except for ours. We decided to take a cab. The guy at the stand confirmed that the taxi took credit cards, so we hopped in. The driver took a "scenic" route to get there. That was the only time that happened to us on the whole trip. Then he wanted us to pay him in cash. We explained that we did not have any British pounds. So he grudgingly accepted Torrey's card. We probably tipped him too much. But in reality, split between us, it didn't cost that much. It was just so much cheaper for the ride back to the airport the next morning. So on Friday we flew back to Charlotte and got back to Davidson in time for me to watch the men's basketball team lose to Auburn.


<- Herculaneum

Cruise Index

Trip Index

Steve Lee's Home Page