Monday, November 9, 2015


Everyone has heard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Well, it does lean. Moreover, it is worth going to see. I’m not sure you need to see it more than once, but our visit there was definitely worth the short drive from Lucca. As Rick Steves constantly points out in his books, you must be careful about parking driving in Italian cities of any size. Because the cities tourists visit were built long before cars came on the scene, parking is at a premium as is driving space. The narrow streets have led Italian cities and towns to designate ZTL (Limited Traffic Zones) and a highly regulated parking structure to assure the locals have places to park near their own homes. Heavy fines greet violators, often by mail. This doesn’t mean that you can walk without concern for vehicles because there are a lot of exceptions to the limitations including delivery vehicles and taxis and even buses at times. The safest thing is to drive around outside of the city walls when they are visible and watch very carefully for the ZTL signs. In Pisa this turned out to be very easy and we found a parking lot within one block of the Tower.

The nice thing about Pisa is that the main sights are all in the same place which has come to be called the Field of Miracles. The tower, the Duomo, and the Baptistery are all located in the same open area, most of which is covered with grass. The two other buildings on the field, the hospital (now a museum) and the Camposanto Cemetery are built with the same white marble as the other three which gives the area a beautiful composition increasing the sense of peace surrounding the area. The hawkers and restaurants and gift shops are kept outside the Field creating a peaceful area for viewing the sights and even relaxing on the grass as long as you don’t try to have a picnic.

The Baptistry
The style of the exteriors is called Pisan Romanesque and it avoids the heavy, fortress sense of most Romanesque architecture. The ground floor uses widely-space half columns. The floors above have more closely-spaced columns with walkways behind them. They are adorned above with different geometric shapes along with a variety of sculptures and some mosaics. The use of some contrasting marbles completes the pleasurable design giving these buildings a gothic feel.

Adornment on the Tower
Thousands of these pictures every day

The tower is the main attraction and it does lean. As a matter of fact it has leaned since building began in 1173. The ground is soft and the builders did not provide enough foundational support before they began building up. Construction stopped twice over the next two hundred years and subsequent architects tried to correct the lean by building backwards. This change in direction is obvious at the top level. Unfortunately, the leaning continued to worsen leading to several efforts at remediation. A $30 million project in the 1990s seems to have finally succeeded in halting the leaning. This project actually corrected the lean by about six inches probably returning it to the angle it was when Galileo conducted his gravity experiments 400 years ago.

Donkey as gargoyle
It costs €18 to enter and climb the tower, so we passed on that pleasure. Looking over the rest of Pisa did not seem that interesting. Instead, we had lunch before entering the Duomo. Building began in 1063 and it was finished over the next 50 years. The 320-foot nave was the longest in Christendom at the time reflecting Pisa's sea-trading power as a rival of Venice and Genoa. The other highlights inside are the beautiful mosaics and stained glass windows, the body of Pisa’s patron saint, St. Ranieri, whose face was scanned with x-ray in 2000 for the creation of his new silver mask, the gaudy pulpit by Giovanni Pisano with its lions representing Jesus killing the satanic four horses of the Apocalypse, and the reproduction of the bronze incense burner that caught the attention of a teenage Galileo. He timed the swings to determine that the time did not change as the length of the swing shortened. He used this concept as he measured the universe of the skies.

Galileo's incense burner

Lion eating one of the horses
We skipped the attendant museums and returned to our car for the drive back to Lucca where we spent the night.

A new work of art on the Field of Miracles

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