We couldn’t leave Italy without seeing the most famous leaning tower in the world, the Pisa Tower. It was a rainy day in Italy, but we decided we had to get on the train and visit this major tourist attraction. Yes, guilty as charged for doing it, but we did have only one afternoon to spend in Pisa after travelling by train from Bologna (by the way, we haven’t told you anything about Bologna, but our next post will focus on it).
First off , Pisa is another Italian city, which has its classic landmarks: historical sites, ruins, impressive architecture, churches, piazze and duomo. Obviously, the most important attraction is the freestanding bell tower of Pisa, situated behind the Cathedral, which is the third oldest structure in Pisa’s Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) after the Cathedral and the Baptistry.
Walking straight ahead from the train station, on the old streets of the city, between medieval arcades and Greek remains, we stopped to absorb the culture of so many historical buildings, appealing shops and hand-made fairs. We couldn’t resist the temptation of buying some unique leather bracelets and eating some more gelato.
Then, after crossing one of the many bridges over the River Arno, we finally reached the city’s Piazza del Duomo, also known, since 20th century, as Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), to the north of the old town center. Here we encountered the famous Duomo (the Cathedral), the Baptistry and the Camposanto Monumentale (the monumental cemetery or the ‘holy field’).
Historical facts about the leaning tower
Everywhere people were taking the emblematic pictures of “holding up” the leaning tower and preventing it from falling. I must admit, we had a laugh about it, as everybody was trying so hard to take the perfect picture. The tower is indeed impressive and gives you a weird feeling due to its leaning at about 3.99 degrees.
The reason why the tower leans is simply because it began to sink after construction had progressed to the second floor in 1178. It was actually a human mistake, a design flawed from the beginning, as part of its foundation was set in unstable subsoil.
After almost a century, during which the Republic of Pisa was engaged in battles with Genoa, Lucca and Florence, the third floor was constructed and clocks were installed.
Only in 1319, the seventh floor was completed, built by Tommaso di Andrea Pisano, who succeeded in harmonizing the Gothic elements of the bell-chamber with the Romanesque style of the tower.
If you enter the tower, you’ll be able to see the seven bells, one for each note of the musical major scale. The largest one was installed in 1655, while, according to Wikipedia, the bell-chamber was finally added in 1372.
However, the tower is one of many works of art and architecture in the city of Pisa. Because we spent our short time mainly in Piazza del Duomo, we haven’t had the chance to visit other important sites such as the Knights’ Square (Piazza dei Cavalieri).
Here you can visit the Palazzo della Carovana, with its impressive façade designed by Giorgio Vasari. In the same place is the church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, also by Vasari.
You can also see one of the best preserved early Romanesque buildings in town, which is the small church of St. Sixtus or stroll on the avenues along the river Arno, in the neighbourhood named “the Borgo Stretto“.
I was surprised to find out there are at least two other leaning towers in the city, one at the southern end of central Via Santa Maria, the other halfway through the Piagge riverside promenade.
Pisa also boasts with frescoes, palaces and more than 200 historic churches that will definitely catch your eye. As the majority of the Italian cities (that we’ve visited), Pisa makes no exception from culture and history.
The city is also famous for its university and one of the best superior graduate schools in Italy. It used to be an important commercial centre, major port in Tuscany and it is famous for being the birthplace of the physicist Galileo Galilei.
What’s not to like about Pisa?! Plus you have the right to act silly when taking your picture with the leaning tower. And, although there’s a common Italian knowledge (apparently) that it always rains in Pisa, we had a blast on a great sunny weather.