When you are going from the Lucchesia to Pisa airport to fly back to Brexit Britain why not make the journey a little more exciting?
An occasion arose for me to do this the other day and a detour to Marina di Pisa was well-worth it.
First, we stopped at the ancient church of San Piero a Grado which dates back to at least the eighth century. It marks the spot where Saint Peter is traditionally supposed to have first landed on Italian soil from whence he travelled to Rome and to his eventual upside-down crucifixion.
The church is unusual in having an apse at each end and of using roman capitals for its columns. It is, thus a truly basilican plan in the classical sense and exudes an extraordinary atmosphere of peace and veneration. Surrounded by large lawns San Piero is one of the earliest examples of that Pisan Romanesque which found its apotheosis in Pisa’s own cathedral.
One of the several unusual exterior features of San Piero a Grado, which is now classed as a minor basilica and titled ‘messenger of peace’, are the Islamic plates inserted in the upper lunettes. I always find that these decorations are a sort of metaphor that Christian and Islam can co-exist peacefully.
Ironically, the campanile was demolished by the Germans (although it was recently reconstructed to about a third of its height) on their retreat from the allied advance to the gothic line because they thought the enemy would use it as a look-out post over the flat Pisan plain. Ironically, because here it was one Christian-based culture fighting it out against another Christian-based one…
The church’s interior, which is very spacious and is crowned by a wooden truss roof, consists of a nave and two aisles.
The upper walls are almost completely covered by frescos which are more faded on one side than the other, probably because of the greater amount of sunlight they received. They were painted by Deodato Orlandi from Lucca in the early 14th century and illustrate, in addition to the life of Saint Peter, the lives of St Paul, Constantine and St Sylvester.
(To the left, St Peter being crucified head-downwards because he didn’t want to be proud enough to emulate Christ’s crucifixion)
Below these frescoes are portraits of all the popes up to that time.
At the west end of the basilica is a large ciborium, or canopy over an altar, in 15th gothic century style which marks the place where St Peter delivered his first sermon upon landing on the Italian shore.
In case you were wondering what happened to the sea all this area was once a lagoon and the church was built on a higher level overlooking it. Since that time the sea has silted up and is now a good five miles away.
(Map showing the former lagoon)
Moving to more secular matters we travelled on to Marina di Pisa which a remarkably quiet, relaxed and family-oriented seaside resort quite unlike the worldly hub-bub of Viareggio. Once the favourite hangouts of artists and composers like Puccini and D’Annunzio, it has seen a recent revival of its fortunes thanks to the construction of a relatively inoffensive new marina with some lovely landscaped coastal-plant gardens around it.
There is an adequate public beach which I once remember as having no sand on it as persistent erosion had swept it all away. Happily today the sandy beach has been built up again and it’s really pleasant to lie on it and have a cooling swim before the hordes of summer crowds really start moving in for the High Holiday season.
The sea promenade is lined with a variety of restaurants of varying costs. We found a friendly one and were served well with mussels, cutlets chips, melon and ham.
On a more sombre note there’s a memorial park with a propeller belonging to the Hercules aircraft from the nearby military airport and which was shot down with all its Italian crew members during the Bosnian war in 1992.
Art nouveau aficionados will have a great time admiring some very elegant villas. And the the estuary of the Arno (Bocca d’Arno) just to the north of the Marina is a delighful spot with a fish market and the traditional retoni (big nets) used to lower into the water and catch a variety of fish.. (See my post on this at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/05/28/a-big-network-at-marina-di-pisa/ )
Unfortunately the airport timetable caught up on us and we had to leave without really giving a look this attractive place with its fin-de-siècle atmosphere deserves. What would be a British seaside resort equivalent for it, I wonder? Worthing perhaps? There was no British equivalent, however for the wonderful sunshine we experienced before heading on to meet our guest at the airport.