Trip highlight

Posted April 13th, 2008 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Trip reports, Tuscanophilia

Pisan New Year

Just a “highlight” from Italy, where there is always something new old to rediscover. I went for a meeting right before Easter – and then, joined by my partner, wandered off to visit family and old friends, with a bit of sight seeing along the way. The day after Easter, we heard about and made it to the main Cathedral in Pisa just on time to see a ray of sun strike a very particular spot in the church that contains a marble egg, signaling the new year when it was traditionally celebrated, at least since the XII century, until 1749 when the city was required to adopt the Gregorian calendar. But the tradition seems to have been revived, marked also with a procession in full medieval attire (see picture below).

Not far outside the city walls, in the direction of the sea, an entire shipyard of roman ships is being excavated, buried in the sediment that long ago filled in the port of what is still often referred to as the Maritime Republic of Pisa – probably as a result of cutting down the trees used to build all those boats! Unfortunately that exhibit was closed when we peddled a few borrowed bikes over there to see it – and our visit too brief. But we did go into the Cathedral museum, which I had previously overlooked. After reading this caption about “The sculptures of the cathedral” in a room that contained samples of the different styles of carvings found in it, I started to see the place in a whole new light – lest you think of Pisa as a place to visit only to see the Leaning Tower:

“Those who go to Pisa can see monsters coming from the sea: this town is full of pagans, Turks, Lilbyans and also Parthians and mysterious Chaldeans frequent its coast” (Donizone, 12th century). At the beginning of the 12th century the monk Donizone was terrified by the infidels living in Pisa. The different “languages” spoken in the town at the time are well represented by the works preserved in this room. In fact, during its Golden Age, artists coming from all over the Mediterranean worked on the Cathedral. Romance languages were derived from spoken Latin but adopted a number of words from other languages. In the same way, Romanesque art comes form the Classic style but with the addition of elements taken from distant countries. The cultural heritage of ancient Rome is testified by the large quantities of classic marble inserted in the walls of the Duomo. The frieze of the Basilica of Neptune in Rome was used as the presbyterial screen in the Cathedral where it was completed with relief work on its reverse side by the workshop of Guglielmo, Rainaldo, and subsequently Guglielmo. These were the first known artists to take part in the decoration of the Cathedral. We can also admire three masterpieces of Islamic art: the Capital signed by Fath, the bronze basin bearing a long invocation to Allah and the famous Grifo. A combination of the lion and the eagle, the griffin was highly venerated by the Greeks and subsequently became a Christian symbol of the earthly and heavenly nature of Christ. Originally used as a perfume-burner, the griffin was placed at the top of the Cathedral until 1828, as a memento of Pisan victories over the Arabs.

The sculpture of David with the Lyre was carved by an artist from Provence and the momumental wooden Crucifix was also realised by French masters. Recent restoration has revealed the Crucifix to be the only surviving sculptlure of a group representing the Deposition, which originally decorated the main altar of the cathedral.

The trip ended back in Milan, where fashion still shows no sign of world economic trouble, pink is the new black – and a major advertising campaign, complete with pink snow, informs that it is “the color of life.” Were it not for the crumbling dollar, I might have come home with a pair of pink rimmed rose colored glasses. But I did have the chance to visit with Angela Pereira – the co-editor of this blog, who will soon be reporting from some upcoming meetings on science and policy, and also with Silvio Funtowicz and Bruna de Marchi, who may yet send in highlights from a recent trip to Ecuador, along with further reflections on Post-Normal Science – a topic I’ll come back to in the next post. But the more I ponder it, the more it seems like just plain common sense, which often seems lost in our feudal academic institutions.

Pisan New Year

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