View of Toledo, Spain

This is one of the most famous views of the city of Toledo, Spain. While not exactly the view immortalized by El Greco in his painting View and Plan of Toledo, this is just as dramatic. The entire city is laid out before, almost completely encircled by the Tagus River. To the left is the spire of Toledo Cathedral, the seat of the leader of the Catholic church in Spain. The big building on the right is the Alcazar. Once the site of a castle, the royal residence of the Visigoths who conquered Spain in the 6th century, the building was almost entirely destroyed in the Spanish Civil War while being defended by Franco's Nationalist troops. After the war the building was reconstructed, and now houses a military museum.

Krakow Cathedral

For most of Poland's history the capital was located in Krakow, not in Warsaw, so it's here that you'll find most of the early history and pageantry. As the seat of the archbishop of Krakow, the cathedral was the home church of Karol Wojtyła for most of his life, and he was the archbishop here from 1964, until he became Pope John Paul II in 1978.

The cathedral provides evidence for the long and rich history of Poland, with a Gothic nave, Renaissance chapels, and a Baroque bell tower. Inside you'll find the ornate tombs of many of Poland's kings and queens, as well as other notable Polish figures.

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.

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