Page images

of the town, and in imitation of the Elian Games, in the Peloponnesus, whence Pisa claims to derive both its name and its origin, boasting of old Nestor, the Pylian sage, for its founder. These combats are sometimes fatal to the champions, who like the ancient gladiators, die for the amusement of the assembled multitude.

The two handsomest streets in town are the Lung' Arno, extending along the quays, open to the river on one side, and lined with ranges of rather splendid buildings on the other. Next the water, the street is guarded by a wall, breast high. As there are few boats on the river, and none lie along the quays, they exhibit nothing of the noise, bustle, lumber, and filth of ordinary wharves in a commercial city. They are both clean and tranquil, enjoying a free air, presenting a pretty prospect, and affording on the whole an eligible, as well as fashionable residence. A spacious hotel, situated upon one of these streets, charges about double the prices of others more retired, but perhaps equal in accommodations.

In ten or fifteen minutes after our arrival, we were upon the top of the Leaning Tower, at the height of 190 feet from the ground. The ascent by means of spiral flights of steps, winding up in the interior, is less arduous and fatiguing than might be supposed. This tower was to us a perfect novelty, both in design and construction. It is the belfry (Campanile) to the Cathedral, though standing several rods from it, and erected at a subsequent period. Its form is circular, perhaps thirty feet in diameter at the base, slightly tapering towards the top, eight stories high, and built of white marble. The style of architecture is mixed, and scarcely reducible to any of the settled orders. All the stories except the uppermost, are girt with open galleries, composed of pillars and arches, presenting the most light, airy, and fanciful piece of fret-work imaginable. The seventh story contains a chime of bells; and the eighth is left open, guarded by an iron balustrade.

But the greatest curiosity about this tower is its inclination. It nods towards the south-east, by a variation from a perpendicular at top of about fourteen feet; and another slight jog would throw it without the centre of gravity. To the spectator, as the clouds swim by, it really appears in the attitude of falling. It has, however, stood in this position for six centuries, and may, perhaps, stand as many more; though a moderate shock of an earthquake would apparently rock it from its base, and prostrate its enormous load of marbles upon a block of houses directly under it. Its inclination has given rise to various speculations. Some have supposed it was originally constructed in this way as an architectural curiosity.

Others believe, that while it was in progress,

the ground gave way, causing the inclination; and that another story, leaning in a contrary direction, was subsequently added, by way of a balance, to keep it from falling. But what kind of a philosopher must the architect have been to place a heavy weight in any position, upon the top of a structure, to prevent it from tumbling? In my opinion, the subject does not admit of a doubt. On examining the base, the lower tier of stones was found above ground on one side, and sunk into the earth on the other. Now, unless the whole was intended as a curious deception, the foundations would not have been thus planted. From the top of the tower, we had an enchanting view of Pisa, and of the broad plain by which it is encircled, all green, bright, and lovely as the landscape was at this season. Towards the northwest and north, the Apennines, dim with distance, rise in amphitheatric pride round the Gulf of Spezia; eastward, Mount Julian rears its woody summits; and to the south-west, the eye traces the windings of the Arno through its luxuriant borders, till its waters mingle with the sea. Farther to the south, glimpses of Leghorn, and of one or two mountainous islands beyond, heaving their chalky cliffs above the waves, complete the magnificence of the picture.

Such variety and softness of scenery, added to the interesting features of the old town at our feet, and to the delicious mildness of the day, chained us for an hour to the spot, with the cicerone all the while chattering his well conned tale. He pointed out, by way of episode, the site of the ancient port of Pisa, where perchance old Nestor landed, or Ulysses came to anchor for the night, in his erratic voyage along these shores. Certain it is, that here in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, the Pisan gallies rode in triumph, hoisting the flags of vanquished nations, and wafting home from Parian quarries, or the ruins of oriental cities, perhaps the very marbles which now elevated us to the skies. But with this once glorious republic, "the days of chivalry are gone." Its port is choked with mud, and the wind sighs through the reeds, which rustle above its buried navies.

But it behooves me to descend from this unpremeditated flight, as well as from the giddy tower to which my readers will please to ascribe it, with as much haste, and as much decency as possible. The Cathedral is such a colossal, irregular, and unmanageable pile, that one hardly knows at which end to commence a description. But to begin, where the architects probably did, with the foundations: it is elevated on substructions several feet above the surrounding area, and the ascent to it is by five steps composed of enormous marble slabs. The edifice is all of stone, porous, and remarkable for beauty. It is a huge mass of mixed materials, thrown promiscuously together, in at

style of architecture, which the Italians call Moorish or Saracenic Gothic, in contradistinction to that from Germany. Its sides are three stories, retreating inward, embellished with a profusion of pillars and arches, and the whole surmounted by pinnacles and statues. The ends are five stories, or rather consist of five ranges of pillars and arches, finished in the same style. Many of the columns are of oriental granite and porphyry, and some of them claim to be of Egyptian and Roman origin, thus exhibited as national trophies, at a period when the Republic was fast rising to the zenith of its glory, in the middle of the eleventh century. The church is in the shape of a cross, with a large dome at the point of intersection, which, however, does not show to much advantage. Its massive doors are of bronze, beautifully wrought and representing in bas-relief sacred scenes from the scriptures.

The inside is as rich and as complex in its ornaments, as the exterior. Double aisles, formed by four rows of granite columns, of the Corinthian order, extend in long perspective on the sides of the nave. The high altar, enriched with porphyry pillars, lapis lazuli, and precious stones of all descriptions, occupies the head of the cross. On a gilded canopy above it, three monstrous black figures, misnamed angels, with their goggle eyes stare the spectator out of countenance; and below, a pretty little bronze cherub, with its spread pinions and symmetrical form, is degraded into the servile office of candle-holder to the priest. At the extremities of the transepts, are two other shrines scarcely inferior to this in splendour, and in no wise superior in taste. The roof is flat, divided into pannels, and highly gilt, reflecting its golden hues upon the Mosaic pavement. One column of porphyry and one of Spanish marble support the pulpit-a perfect sample of the wanton mixture of ornaments in the whole edifice. The walls are hung with paintings, which cannot be seen to any advantage, owing to the dimness of the aisles. We examined every one of them, while waiting for a group of chanting canons to leave their stalls at the high altar; but the collection afforded me little pleasure, and a description would afford still less to my readers. Unlike most of the galleries at Genoa, the subjects of two thirds of them are poetical allegories, and have no connexion with religion.

The Baptistry to the Cathedral is another separate building, flanking it on one side, as the Campanile does on the other. It is a magnificent rotunda, enriched with pillars and arches, rising range above range, in the same style of architecture, as the primary edifice of which this is one of the satellites. The roof is covered with innumerable pinnacles and statues, amidst which the dome swells to a still loftier height, surmounted by the image of St. John the Baptist, the presiding saint.

It was erected a century after the Cathedral, by the voluntary subscriptions of the Pisans. The interior is a grand, rich, and splendid temple. A circle of eight massive columns of Sardinian granite, hewn from single blocks, rise from the mosaic pavement, to the height of perhaps thirty or forty feet. Above these, sixteen marble pillars, disposed in double ranges, support the dome springing from their capitals. The front is elevated several feet above the pavement, and approached by a flight of steps. It is of an octagonal shape, divided into five compartments, the central one being large and designed for adults, and the four smaller ones round the circumference for children. The pulpit or reading desk rests on a circlet of ten granitic columns, and its pannels are adorned with bas-relief, portraying the leading events in the life of the Saviour. Among the less interesting curiosities of the building, is an unusually perfect echo, together with a whispering gallery. I held my watch, while the cicerone strained his lungs, and found the reverberations of his voice to be distinctly heard for ten seconds.

The Campo Santo, or Cemetery, is the last, though in no respect the least of this celebrated group of edifices. It is a long parallelogram, situated a few yards in the rear of the Cathedral, the Leaning Tower, and the Baptistry, which range nearly in a right line. The history of it seems to be briefly as follows. In one of the crusades to the Holy Land, the Pisan galleys brought home large quantities of the consecrated soil, which was here strewed to the depth of ten feet, and which is said to possess the peculiar properties of decomposing bodies in the short space of forty-eight hours! Round this deposit of holy earth, thence denominated Campo Santo, or sacred field, ranges of white marble cloisters were erected in the twelfth century. They consist of beautiful arcades, perhaps ten feet in breadth and fifteen or twenty feet in height, with a blind wall on the outer side, and lateral windows, or more properly arches, looking inwardly to a spacious court open at top.

Over the entrance is a statue of the Virgin, and a group of devotees, in the act of bending the knee in adoration, among whom the artist has taken the liberty of giving himself a conspicuous station. The cloisters are paved entirely with tombstones, consisting of white marble slabs, inscribed with almost roods of epitaphs. Six hundred families of the Pisan nobility sleep beneath, besides much untitled dust; for the cemetery was originally the only one in the city. The stuccoed walls are divided into compartments, and covered with fresco paintings nearly coeval with the edifice itself, and strongly illustrative of the history of the art. Among these is a delineation of Dante's Hell, in which devils and mortals are seen sprawling about in all possible attitudes. Proud piles of monumental marble, sarcophagi, and busts,

together with Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Italian antiquities crowd the galleries, rendering them not less a school for artists, than a depository of the dead. In this respect the Campo Santo is much superior to Westminster Abbey, though its moral associations were to us far less interesting.

The Archbishop's Palace and other stately buildings, front upon the square of the Cathedral, presenting not a single mean object to detract from its grandeur. In the vicinity stands the church of St. Stephen, the interior of which dazzles the eye with the richness and brilliancy of its embellishments. Near this place, our guide pointed out the prison of Ugolino, whose confinement and starvation by the aspiring Prelate are sung in one of the episodes of Dante. bles over Pisa, we called at several other churches. The floods of the Arno on one occasion produced such a deluge, that the inhabitants rode to the High Altar of St. Francis in boats, floating about among the pillars of its aisles.

In our ram

The most interesting building, next to those above described, is the church of St. Maria della Spina, so called from a tradition, that a thorn from the crown of the Saviour is among its relics. It is almost another Santa Casa, so tiny and light that it might apparently have been borne hither from Palestine or some other oriental clime, by less potent beings than angels. Its dimensions do not exceed forty feet in length by twenty in breadth, one story high, and crowned with a profusion of little Gothic pinnacles. The pillars without number are of all possible orders of architecture. Its front is adorned with small statues of the Saviour and his twelve Disciples, and scores of saints perch among the turrets above. The Madonna, who was supposed to possess peculiar virtues, has been removed and placed in a more conspicuous situation, over the arched entrance of the most frequented street in the city, that her sphere of influence might be enlarged. This unique and fantastic structure is of black and white marble, striped like the Cathedral at Genoa. It is said to have been built in the 13th century. Its position, upon the left bank of the Arno, standing on the very brink, and insulated from all other buildings, gives prominence to its oddities. When it was first seen across the river, it was not suspected of being a church. It really looks, as if it might have been brought in a Pisan galley, and here set ashore as the most convenient landing place.

I visited the large Botanic Garden, forming an appendage to the University. Its compartments are extensive, and tolerably well filled with exotics, as well as with native plants. Artificial mounts have been constructed, and clothed with evergreens, which add to the variety of the enclosure. One striking peculiarity arrested my attenfion-the alleys are all paved like so many streets, for the conve

« PreviousContinue »