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Sommario Ulisse Pisa Articles
Beyond the Tower
by Aldo Canale
Great tourist attractions
by Gino Nunes
What to do with a great past?
by Marco Tangheroni
Cursed Meloria
by Renzo Castelli
One miracle leads to another
by Lucia Capitani
Balancing inclines
by Lucia Capitani
The art of memory
by Clara Baracchini
Heirs and rivals of the Eternal City
by Clara Baracchini
Sculpted pulpits
by Lea Mattarella
Did he really “raise his mouth from his savage meal”?
by Gaetano Savatteri
“Normal”, in a manner of speaking
by Guglielmo Vezzosi
In the park of kings, a life fit for a king
by Fabrizio Carbone
The horse village
Volterra, splendour and mystery
by Eleonora Tiliacos
Campagna Amica indice
A cuisine that follows the rules of the sea
by Davide Paolini
PISA Dal XV secolo ai nostri giorni  Chickpea
The sacred legume shaped like a ram’s head
by Giorgio e Caterina Calabrese
PISA Dal XV secolo ai nostri giorni  Wine
New wines growing fast
PISA Dal XV secolo ai nostri giorni  Norcinerie alla pisana
PISA Dal XV secolo ai nostri giorni  Tartufo
Un “bianco” da primato
PISA Dal XV secolo ai nostri giorni  Olio
Verde nettare di frantoio
PISA Dal XV secolo ai nostri giorni  Formaggio
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Pisa Online .it

Versione Italiana

“Normal”, in a manner of speaking
by Guglielmo Vezzosi

Versione Inglese

In the wake of a great tradition, Pisa boasts an excellent university and unrivalled research facilities.
The stones of the medieval towers and the lavish aristocratic homes overlooking the Arno are strong shoulders supporting the weight of many centuries of history and upholding the reputation of a university culture and tradition deeply rooted in this city.
Wherever you walk, through the labyrinth of lanes and streets in Pisa, you can see groups of students going in and out of the historical buildings that today house libraries and university departments. It is the epilogue of a slow transformation that in a few decades has changed the face of the city: the ceilings of frescoed halls from which high-spirited, rather irreverent seventeenth-century angels peep down no longer witness the sumptuous celebrations of the local aristocracy. Instead, the lecture rooms of university faculties are opened, or state-of-the-art laboratories where new frontiers of scientific and technological research are overcome every day. All this is the Pisa campus, a lively, modern city born of the ancient town and its memories, built one piece at a time by means of an “acquisitions campaign” conducted by the University, which has made possible the salvage and restoration of important buildings connected with the name and the history of Pisa.
The presence of the University and of major research institutes also redeems Pisa from the state of stupor and the syndrome common to other cities too, who after experiencing a glorious and brilliant period in ancient times, transform their past into an alibi for a weak, indolent present. Indelible traces and evidence of the might of the seafaring republic defeated by the Genoese in the naval battle of Meloria in 1284 still survive in the pure white marble of the Square of Miracles, but the memory of lost power has turned into mortified and dreary architectural, monumental and even human melancholy, that has accompanied the sluggish flow of the waters of the Arno for centuries. The birth of the University of Pisa - dating back to 1343 when the papal bull In supremae dignitatis was issued - contributed, at least in part, to redeem this image. Today the university has 11 faculties and 57 departments with a total of more than 48,000 students, but at the beginning it certainly didn’t have an easy life, being directly involved in the politics of the period. Suffice it to say that after the rebellion of Pisa against Florentine rule (1494) that ended in a long siege and the subsequent reconquest of the city (1509), the university was transferred first to Prato and then to Pistoia.
Finally, under the Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519-1574) the university obtained new financing and Statutes, becoming one of the most important research and teaching centres in Europe: in these years the Pisan scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) formulated the theory of isosynchronism of the pendulum by observing the oscillations of a lamp inside the cathedral. Also in the 16th century (1544) Luca Ghini, a doctor, founded the Botanical Gardens, the oldest in the world together with the one in Padova.
After the Grand Dukes of the new Hapsburg-Lorraine dynasty gave new impetus and encouragement to the university in the second half of the 18th century, in the Napoleonic period the university was transformed into an Imperial Academy and, above all, in 1810 the Scuola Normale Superiore opened, modelled on the one in Paris. The most prestigious school of Italian excellence is housed in the Palace of the Carovana, which owes its present appearance (1562) to the genius and the skills of Giorgio Vasari. It stands in Piazza Cavalieri, the site in ancient times of the Palace of the Elders and of the soaring Tower of the Gualandi family, famous for being the place where the unfortunate Count Ugolino della Gherardesca was locked up and starved to death together with his two sons and grandsons(1289), all immortalised in a famous passage of Canto XXXIII of Dante’s Inferno.
Not far away in Via della Faggiola, a few dozen metres from the square, stands the house where Giacomo Leopardi composed “To Silvia” during his stay in Pisa in 1828. The door of the house is still the same as in the poet’s time, and an unknown hand places a posy of fresh flowers here every week in honour of the poet from Recanati. Some of the most modern laboratories of the Normal High School are housed in the rooms where Leopardi was a guest. In the advanced frontiers of research, both in scientific and humanistic fields, a great gamble is under way: to beat the competition in knowledge and learning, a strategic challenge for a truly avant-garde University. In a new situation that requires more and more technology, information and an even closer relationship between industry and research, the Scuola Normale has no intention of remaining isolated. With its two centuries of history and distinguished scholars (Giosué Carducci, Carlo Rubbia and Enrico Fermi, to name only the Nobel Prize winners), it adopts a precise model for the education of students, scientists and citizens. A glance down the list of all its pupils from 1810 until today is sufficient to remain impressed: as well as the three Nobel Prize winners, it includes the names of two Presidents of the Republic (Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Giovanni Gronchi), physicists, mathematicians, philologists and great writers. Every year students wishing to enter must undergo a very strict selection, but in almost two centuries the School has always been faithful to its tradition and has continued to mould a considerable part of the Italian intellectual and ruling classes.
Another of Pisa’s excellent schools, located in a fourteenth-century Benedictine ex-monastery completely restored and surrounded by gardens and greenery, in the heart of the historical centre, is the Sant’Anna Superior School of university and post-graduate studies, born of the merging of the Superior School of university and post-graduate studies with the Conservatory of Sant’Anna in 1987, two institutes with a heritage of a long and consolidated tradition of studies. In this School where, among others, former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato and ex-Ministers Enrico Letta and Antonio Maccanico graduated, it is necessary to pass an entrance test that evaluates the potential, aptitudes and intellectual curiosity of the candidates. Throughout the years the School has increased its offer of courses with the objective of experimenting in innovative research and academic training at the highest level, to respond to society’s growing expectations of modernisation and innovation. Pisa, city of science, also holds another record: the Cep-Calcolatrice Elettronica Pisana, the first computer designed and constructed in Italy was created in the shadow of the Leaning Tower.
It all began with an idea of Enrico Fermi’s in 1953. The provinces of Pisa, Lucca and Leghorn set aside 150 million lire, a considerable sum at the time, for the realisation of a synchrotron (which was later constructed in Frascati). Fermi suggested using most of the money to design and create a computer, namely the Cep. The research team that conceived it then merged with the Electronic Calculator Study Centre (Csce) of the National Research Council (CNR) Today one of the CNR’s most important sites is located in Pisa: no less than 15 institutes in a research centre that is an incubator of technologies and professionalism, making it a structure of absolute excellence at national and international level. In short, Pisa is the city of genius, art and culture that has bewitched young lovers and severe professors, learned scientists and disenchanted narrators through the centuries, inspiring writings and memories many of which passed down on pages that are still indelible. Just recently Nistri-Lischi - the refined publisher of all things Pisan - printed a volume quoting descriptions by foreign and Italian travellers during their long or even short stays in Pisa from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The picture presented by the great French historian Jules Michelet, who arrived in Pisa in 1830 after having visited the most important Italian towns, is especially striking in this sense: “None of the memories I have of Italy are more vivid than the nostalgia I feel for the city of Pisa.
Certainly, Florence is splendid, and Rome is majestic and tragic; but for all that, it seems to me that it would be so sweet to live and die in Pisa”. And in 1907 Le Corbusier declared: “To the devil with painters, to the devil with their daubs, one little angel in the Cathedral is worth all the daubers in the world. Always in love with Pisa. Even after having seen the Parthenon and Pompeii.”

Guglielmo Vezzosi, journalist for La Nazione


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