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Field of Miracles, Pisa, Italy

Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), Pisa, Italy

Four of the most important monuments in Pisa, all in one shot. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the buildings here are almost a thousand years old. They were 500 years old when British colonists first settled Jamestown, in what is now Virginia. Think about that, the next time you're pondering the longevity of the USA.

The big round building out front is the Baptistery (begun in 1153). Overlooked by many tourists who come just to see the Tower lean, the Baptistery has amazing acoustics. Stick around long enough and one of the guards will sing a simple scale, and suddenly it sounds like an entire choir is surrounding you.

Just behind the Baptistery is the Duomo (cathedral, begin in 1064). I featured a view of the interior in a previous post.

On the right you can see the Leaning Tower (1173), which is nothing more than the bell tower for the cathedral. If you look closely, you may notice that the right side of the tower is curved. That's not an optical illusion. The tower was already leaning before the builders reached the third level, yet they kept on building straight up, hoping to compensate for what was then only slight lean. It didn't help.

The downright youthful building on the left is the Campo Santo (cemetery, 1278). The name, 'Holy Field', comes from some dirt brought back to Pisa from Jerusalem after the Third Crusade. Apparently all of the souvenir shops were closed, so the archbishop of Pisa scooped up a ship load of dirt from the hill of Calvary, where Christ was crucified. Once considered the pride and joy of the city, the interior walls of the Campo Santo had over 25,000 square feet of fresco paintings. In July 1944 the Campo Santo was hit during an Allied aerial bombardment. The structure caught fire and burned for three days, incinerating the timber and lead roof (not unlike the recent fire at Paris's Notre-Dame cathedral). A post-war restoration program for the severely damaged frescoes finally finished up in 2018, with the installation of Francesco Traini's, The Last Judgement, Hell, and the Triumph of Death.

Allmendhubel, Switzerland

Allmendhubel is moderate hike or a short funicular ride from the Alpine village of Mürren, in the heart of the Berner Oberland Alps. Not a bad place to blow your own horn.

Travel Thought for the Week

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”
– Susan Sontag (1933-2004), American critic, novelist

Hôtel Dieu in Beaune, France

Beaune is my favorite town in Burgundy, and right at the heart of this medieval village is the imposing Hôtel Dieu. Founded in the 15th century as a hospice to care for the poor and sick, the Hôtel Dieu continued to function as the town hospital until 1971. Today it has been beautifully restored to its 15th century condition and is the number one attraction in Beaune (aside from the wine).

Reichstag Observation Deck, Berlin, Germany

A view of the observations deck, inside the dome of the Reichstag (parliament building) in Berlin, Germany.

I first visited the Reichstag in 1984, when Germany was still a divided country and the capital of West Germany was hundreds of miles away, in Bonn. The Reichstag at that time was being used for a display titled 'Questions in German History'. The Berlin Wall was just a few yards east of the building. Our group had lunch in a back room with a view of the Wall, while East German border guards with binoculars watched us from the other side.

The interior of the main chamber was set up with temporary chairs, the number of chairs corresponding to the number of representatives that a reunited Germany would have. By then, Germany had been divided for almost 40 years, and very few people believed the chamber would ever be used. Five years later, the Wall came crashing down.

Through the glass panels visitors can get a view of the main chamber of the German government, where representatives meet to debate and vote on legislation. The design represents transparency in government – an important idea for any country, but especially for one with a very problematic past. Around the observation deck, visual display panels trace the history of the building, and of government in Germany.

The central column of mirrors reflects light into the chamber, and also acts as an air duct, pulling hot air out of the chamber through convection – and with all those government representatives in the chamber, there's a lot of hot air.

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