Whenever I have talked to someone who has travelled to Tuscany, I have asked them if they visited the Leaning Tower Of Pisa. So many of them have not, so how could I be in Florence, only an hour and fifteen minutes away by train from Pisa, and not see it myself. Most people are on limited vacation schedules and have to pick and choose the places they visit. We have all the time in the world, well almost, so we packed a picnic lunch and headed for the train station.
I really didn’t expect to be impressed by the experience, and that was the best part. I keep telling myself that I have to manage expectations so as not to be disappointed. Pisa was a delightful surprise. It’s a much smaller city, not far from the coast, and the Arno runs through it on its way to the sea. The traffic was very light as we walked the two kilometers to the north edge of the city. We were delighted to see a lot of people riding bicycles as they went about their regular daily routines. We walked through some very pleasant streets and piazzas and at last the tipping tower came into view.
We’ve all heard about the Leaning Tower, but I don’t know if any of you knew that the famous tower is part of a beautiful complex called Campo dei Miracoli (Field Of Miracles). The locals claim that it is among the most beautiful squares in the world. The lovely green lawns contrast dramatically with the pristine white marble of the cathedral, baptistry and the campanile (tower). I always imagined that the tower stood alone in the town, and that the fact that it always appeared about to collapse, is what led to its fame. However, worshippers have been drawn to the cathedral since it was completed, it was begun in 1063 AD and the massive bronze doors were added in the 16th century.
Construction on the tower started in 1173 AD and once the first three levels were built, the sandy soil began to shift and the tower started to lean. The tilting continued at the rate of about one millimeter per year until stability was established in 1998 by using weights and soil drilling to ensure a safer position. Visitors can climb the tower but queues are long and the fee high. We chose to stay on terra firma and watch the antics of the tourists as they posed for photos intended to show them pushing the tower back to vertical.
It was a wonderful afternoon, in a beautiful place. This late in the fall, the crowds were manageable, although the police had a tough time keeping the tourists off the lawn where they wanted to stand for the best pose possible. We walked back to the train station along a pedestrian street and enjoyed the peace and quiet of Pisa. Most of the tourists visit as part of a tour so we felt almost a local as we window-shopped along our route and stepped aside every now and then when a bicycle bell rang to warn us of an approaching rider. If you visit Pisa, make sure to come on your own so that you have as much time as you need at the Tower and the opportunity to walk through the city. The train to and from Florence is affordable, the tickets easy to purchase and the journey comfortable. It’s a terrific day trip, one not to be missed.