Monday, October 8, 2018

A Walk Around Pisa, Italy

leaning tower of Pisa

Taking the train from Florence to Pisa was pretty straightforward. Once we squeezed through the teeming throngs of people in the large train station in Florence and boarded the train things went quickly. The train was not quite as comfortable as the ones in Sicily (bathroom was much better/cleaner) but the about-an-hour trip went by quickly.  We arrived pretty much right when we were supposed to arrive and were able to put our luggage in storage so we could explore Pisa without hauling extra bags around with us.

Finding your way to the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre Pendante) is easy with the help of Google Maps. The tower, and other associated buildings, is 1.8km awy and the walk is simple. We soon crossed the Arno River (yes, the same river that flows through Florence) over the Mezzo bridge where we saw numerous vintage cars and people dressed in clothing dating from centuries ago. We never did find out why.  We strolled down a pedestrian only shopping street, through some piazzas with buildings sporting intricately-etched facades, and along some quiet streets that felt like they must be where resident Pisans reside. Then as we entered a final piazza the tower rose into view over the lower buildings. From that vantage point I could just make out the famous tilt. When we entered the area where the tower sits it became easier to see. The Leaning Tower of Pisa sits, along with the cathedral and baptistry, in a large grassy area. Hundreds of people were milling about but it did not really feel overwhelming.  We were able to gaze at the tower without feeling as though we were being pushed about by crowds. I think it looked even better under the cloudy skies as it rose its 55 meters into the sky tilting noticeably to the right. 

My understanding is construction of the tower began in the 13th century. It was not finished until the mid-15th with a break of nearly 100 years because of fighting between Pisa and its rivals.The tower began to lean almost from the start. The ground on one side was too soft and the foundations were not properly built. If I understand what I’ve read correctly that century-long construction pause gave the tower time to settle, which helped ease the lean somewhat, and prevented it from toppling over when work resumed. Until  attempts starting late in the 20th century to stabiliize the tower, it was leaning at about 5.5 degrees. Today the Leaning Tower of Pisa tilts at 3.99 degrees.  I do not know if you feel  that tilt if you go inside and climb the 300 steps to the top: we did not buy tickets to do that.

It is a lovely buildings but the tower doesn’t stand alone. The Pisa Cathedral and baptistry stand nearby (a baptistry is the part of a cathedral where baptisms are done but this is a separate building ; a very substantial one).They are worth looking at in their own right.

We worked our way away from the Tower’s piazza in time to find our way back. We found a nice place to eat, Il Capoldagio, just before a modest shower began. The canopies did a not-quite-perfect job of sheltering us but the meal was good so the occassional rain spatter was just a small nuisance.

We still had a couple of hours before we needed to go to the airport to find the rest of the HF group so we continued making loops cris-crossing the Arno. Our wanderings took us to the church of the Thorn (Santa della Spina I believe). The church changed its name in 1333 when it supposedly acquired a thorn from Christ’s crown of thorns. So the story goes. It is a pretty looking small church sitting near the edge of the Arno. Its current location isn’t where it first sat because it was moved, not sure when, away from the river. It is still quite close. Very pretty.

We would eventually work our way back to the train station where the PisaMover, single driver-less cars that zip along a track between downtown Pisa and the airport ,  quickly ferried us to the airport. Time to wait, have a coffee, and wait some more. Our hours in Pisa worth well spent. 

Perhaps a half-hour late the HF group arrived and by 18:30 we had been shepherded to a waiting bus for the 90 minute drive to our hotel in Bonassola where a late (for us) dinner and later fireworks show (see previous post) awaited us. 

River Arno in Pisa - Ponte Mezzo I think


Pisa Cathedral and tower

Vhurch of yhe Thorn


  1. The Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre Pendante) rising some 55 meters into the sky. My understanding is the lower edge is actually only 2 feet lower than the higher edge at the top. As you look at the tower that surely doesn’t appear to be so.
  2. Our first crossing of the Arno.
  3. The Pisa Baptistry.
  4. Cathedral and Tower under overcast skies that look a bit more dramatic than they actually are. Personally, I think they enhance the view in a way a clear blue sky may not have done.
  5. The church of the Thorn  sits alongside the Arno River. The pink stone (marble)is intricately etched and statues including gargoyles, the Madonna and child, sit high on the building too.

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