In the Middle Ages, it was important for sacred buildings to confuse the faithful, make them feel helpless and unable to compare with the divinity.
Gothic churches did this in a vertical direction and with their grandeur. They were tall places, dark and dank.
Upon entering, you were meant to feel small, small in comparison to He who created you and that, in His own way, loved you. Islamic buildings, on the other hand, obtained the same effect on the horizontal plane with places that were difficult to navigate and had no point of reference.
Like the mosque in Cordoba with its forest of unequal columns or the Alcazar in Seville, in which the rooms are arranged tortuously with the walls lined with azulejos and embroidered crochet arches that make the palace seem much bigger than it really is. These are all tools to make the visitor feel little, lost and in need of guidance. But just observe these buildings from above and the fear will disappear, leaving wonder in its place.
And so, from the point of view of the Most High or by whatever name you call Him, the columns are revealed in their symmetry and the church once again becomes a well-oriented cross pointing towards Jerusalem.
The same happens when you look at the Piazza dei Miracoli. The church, from the walls, seems joined with the bell tower and the Battistero seems to have a uniform coverage, not two different coloured tiles. The walls distort the tower, but don’t worry, everything else, from another point of view, will appear with different clarity.
Not that the path along the historic walls of Pisa are limited to this.
Walking on the ramparts, you can see the tower of the Chiesa di San Torpè rising above the trees, cross from the magnificent district of San Francesco and disturb the students who seek to understand the complex laws of physics and mathematics in the Marzotto gardens, home, perhaps, to the most prestigious department of our university.
You can discover where the Florentines penetrated the city in the middle of the last millennium and understand why there is a square in Pisa called 'delle gondole'. I won’t tell you why. If I did, you might not come anymore. In short, you will see many beautiful things, interesting things and also many ugly things because, over time, Pisa has grown and with no one guarding her walls, certain unauthorised building have risen that would have been quite difficult to perpetrate if a nice guard equipped with a halberd was peering from above.
These things happened in the Middle Ages. But we, however, are in the 21st century. We are no longer in the Dark Ages, when the churches had to frighten and the walls served to keep people out. Today, in 2016, churches are made to be admired. And on the walls, you can rise above it all for a quiet, peaceful walk.