Pisa, Italy attracts all types of people, famous and not so famous. Instagram recently showed Katy Perry capturing her best pose on location just a couple months ago. Many celebs make the pilgrimage to this out of the way but infamous destination. After American comedian/actor Danny DeVito visited, he wrote the following:
“I’ve been to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s a tower, and it’s leaning. You look at it, but nothing happens, so then you look for someplace to get a sandwich.”
This is perhaps the most honest description that I have come across. Essentially, Danny DeVito described my day in Pisa. However, I like to think my day was about more than the tower and a sandwich.
Pisa was one of those bucket list destinations that I felt I had waited my entire life for. I was so motivated and energized the morning I woke up to catch the train to Pisa, Italy.
Everyone, even the youngest school aged children, can visualize the Leaning Tower of Pisa. As soon as you become aware of its very existence, you are taught of this tower’s imperfect foundation.
We know the tower took 344 years to build, beginning in August 1173. The lean had already started by 1178 when the second level was under construction. Building of the tower halted twice due to war. One halt lasted 100 years.
The tower was built as a freestanding bell tower for the cathedral in Pisa. Inside the tower there are seven bells (located on the uppermost eighth floor – each note represents one note of the musical major scale).
Getting to Pisa, Italy can be simple yet tricky. I thought it would be as easy as boarding a train in Florence, paying a fare of about $12 euro per person roundtrip, and settling in for a little scenic 80 km train ride. Upon arrival at the train station in Pisa we found that the Piazza dei Miracoli, or Square of Miracles, where the Leaning Tower is located, was nowhere in sight! We were told not to worry, that it was just a short bus or taxi ride away.
Seeing no taxis in sight, we decided to take the bus. Out in front of the train station were several numbered bus stops. Nothing was labeled in English (nor am I saying it should be) and nothing clearly said Leaning Tower of Pisa – This Way….. This detail proved challenging for a number of tourists of many nationalities (me included). One family would move across the street to a bus stop and it was like a game of follow the leader. The move would cause a dozen other couples to follow, all believing that the first couple knew something they did not. My husband was convinced we were at the correct bus stop so he never let us waver. However, the intense heat had all tourists this day seeking shade. I think it was perhaps 90 or even 100(F) degrees this day.
After a short wait of approximately twenty minutes, a half filled bus pulled up and the large crowd of tower seeking tourists squeezed in for the ride. This was perhaps the most unpleasant bus ride I can ever recall taking. The bus was packed, elbow to elbow and moved rapidly along winding streets. And did I mention the heat?? I felt like we were on the fast bus to Dante’s Inferno.
After a bus ride that left me terrified to step on another bus again in the near future, I disembarked into the vapors of intense heat and slowly strolled toward the legendary landmark.
The first view of the landmark that caught my attention was the ancient walls surrounding the Square of Miracles. As I approached the brick walls and caught my first view of the infamous Leaning Tower, I realized it was more beautiful than I had ever imagined. The marble glowed bright white against the bluest of blue sky offset by the vividly green grass. The masses of people were thick.
Giant sections of beautifully manicured lawns surround the Duomo, the Baptistry, the Camposanto (holy field/cemetery), and the Campanile (leaning bell tower). The grass, however, was off limits to tourists.
Ropes cordoned off the inviting green plush ground forcing the masses to loiter upon hot cement. Hundreds of people were climbing every bench, pillar, and pole in order to capture their iconic snapshot (you know the one, where everyone props the leaning tower up with a foot, finger, their back, bottom or both hands). It is quite comical to see all the poses and the police yelling out to random trespassers “off the grass – off the grass”. I think that is what they were saying in Italian.
After capturing a number of classic photos, we quickly located the ticket office in the Museum of the Sinopie (just opposite the monuments) where you can purchase admission to the tower. I recommend you do this as soon as you arrive at the gates of the piazza and before you begin taking pictures so you can secure the earliest tour time. The ticket office is about a third of the way down the main walkway. Although it was challenging to locate the ticket office, it was quite simple to purchase a timed admission ticket. On our very crowded day, we were informed our tour to climb the 294 steps would begin in one hour. The hour wait allowed us to locate a fantastic lunch spot with great air flow and cool air conditioning. We felt extremely welcome at Ristorante L’Europeo located just 20 meters right off Piazza dei Miracoli. Although I am not a beer connoisseur, I drank the best tasting chilled Italian beer (Birra Moretti) of my entire life. We dined on tomato bruschetta (my favorite) among other things and my son, Jack, enjoyed a generous kid’s plate that included ravioli, chicken strips and chocolate/chocolate chip gelato.
An hour later my guys departed to climb the tower.
I relaxed and enjoyed my ringside, air conditioned seat from inside the restaurant while they set off for the tower queue…that is, until the air conditioning unit in the restaurant blew up shortly after the boys left, leaving the temperature inside about the same as the temperature outside. The climb took the guys about a half hour total (up and down). They told me that obviously there is no elevator inside and that the staircase spirals upward in a clockwise manner along the exterior wall of the tubelike structure, and are bound by a stone wall on the right side of the stairs. Inside the tower at ground level is a small display, and one can look straight up and see the blue sky above.
The exterior wall has a few narrow openings along the climb, but the openings are so slim they do not allow much of a view. The tilt of the tower is noticeably pronounced while climbing the stairs, as the odd angle forces you to lean to different sides as you circle the tower. The view from the top of the tower was great (see the picture taken by the guys) where one can see the entire Square of Miracles. My husband said the climb is certainly worth the 25 euro per person charge.
My perspective from the ground suited me just fine today. The marble is gorgeous and it is easy to see the black and white zebra stipe details and carving of each of the eight levels with their complimentary columns and arches. The tower is absolutely breathtaking. Beginning in 1989 and lasting until about 2001, the foundation issues were addressed and I have read this has slowed down and somewhat corrected the lean by a few degrees.
Pisa is indeed a great day trip. The location is close to many towns in Tuscany and reasonably convenient to reach. The food and people of Pisa were delightful. Truthfully, this has been my experience throughout all of Italy. I have yet to encounter one Italian that I didn’t love (ok maybe one in Florence…but I’ll save that for another blogpost).