We finally reached the Leaning Tower after spending the morning wandering through the streets of Pisa. We were able to get a peek of its top from the botanical garden, which is a short walk away from the tower district. We could see many people standing in front of the leaning tower in awkward and weird positions, while friends or family members took funny photos of them. Close up, depending on the angle we looked at the tower, it did not appear to lean as much as we had imagined. Despite its original height of 60 meters on completion in 1399 it now has a height of 56.67m on the highest and 55.86m on the lowest side ue to subsidence in the base. Until 1990 the tower was leaning at an angle of 10% but has since been stabilised, otherwise it would have eventually toppled over and there is no further action required for the next 200 years – we hope anyway.
Nowadays the tower is open again to a limited number of people per visit. I highly recommend booking tickets in advance as the queues can be incredibly long during high season and while there are other buildings to see on the Campo dei Miracoli, the square of Miracles, it can be quite annoying to wait around a long time for a climb to the top. Bear in mind, that children under the age of eight years, are not permitted to climb the tower. I know this is a huge disappointment for many but I guess they must have their safety reasons for the age restriction.
Jerome was excited to finally be there and could not wait to climb the tower. We were lucky and got into the next slot and bridged our time with a close up look of the tower and taking some photos. We wandered over to the entrance of a few minutes before our time slot. There we waited for the last visitors to leave before we were allowed into the bottom of the tower. We found ourselves in a circular space with the stairs leading up one side of the wall to the top. Our guide explained a few historic facts to us in Italian and English and we noticed the light from the hole at the top of the tower. The stairs are enclosed and wind up on the outside walls of the tower all the way to the top, 294 steps in total. It did not seem that many steps, but they were definitely already well worn and slippery and somehow it felt weird walking up and later on back down again, maybe because of the angle of the tower.
Jerome almost raced up, we had to tell him to slow down and to not overtake the other guests. At the top of the tower, the eighth floor to be exact, we found the seven bells which each represent one note on the musical scale. In the centre of the floor we saw that the hole, which we had seen from the bottom of the tower was actually covered with a glass plate. We walked past the bells and enjoyed the view over the town of Pisa, the other majestic buildings of the complex and the Tuscan hills in the distance. We were glad to have made it to the top, despite the hefty entrance fee of 26.50€ per person. It was worth it, considering how much money it must take to keep the tower stabilised and the rest of the buildings in good condition.
After the slanting decent we left the bell tower behind and strolled over to the other buildings of the Square of Miracles. There are three buildings beside the tower on the square, the imposing and majestic Cathedral, the round, dome shaped Baptistery and to one side, hidden behind a wall, the Composanto, the cemetery.
My odd obsession with visiting cemeteries might be known to all regular readers here by now, and we were not disappointed by our visit. The Composanto is not your average cemetery, with graves scattered around a field, this is what it used to look like before an archbishop decided to build on this secluded and enclosed place. Once we stepped inside we realised its grandness, designed to look like a cloister.
The walls and gothic arches were of marble and at the centre of the cloister was a long, inner courtyard with well-tended grass. Walking along, inside the cloister we could see the extensive outlines of frescos covering the walls, unfortunately, many of them were destroyed by the Americans in World War II. The ones that survived are being restored or have been kept in a nearby museum. Besides the murals we notices the many tombstones denoting graves all over the floor. Sarcophagi monuments were placed throughout the cloister, some of them with beautiful Roman and Etruscan sculptures. We walked a full circle, Jerome mostly taking notice of some of the more morbid tomb stones and at the end walking out through the lush green courtyard.
We then went straight to the Baptistery. It was in this building that from 1185 people wishing to take up Christian faith were baptised. At its centre once stood a large octagonal basin, where adults and children received the holy sacrament. We found the building to be quite imposing for just this purpose, but its circular shape was impressive and the striped walls and floors of contrasting marble and the columns, were very interesting to see.
Jerome’s favourite part, as he was not really that interested in the architecture or purpose of the building at all, was to climb the stairs to the women’s gallery. The gallery not only gave us a great view of the inside of the building, we were also able to look out of one of the windows. From here we could see the cathedral with the leaning tower peeping out over the roof. Another distinguishing feature of the baptistery is the acoustic of the double dome. Jerome had heard that every thirty minutes an attendant would sing a few notes to give visitors a brief demonstration of the reverberation. This was definitely worth the short wait and quite interesting to hear.
Our last stop for that day was the Duomo II, the majestic cathedral, which is at the centre of the Square of Miracles. Even the outside of the cathedral with its many layered arches makes it one of Italy’s major architectural monuments. Looking closer at the columns we could see that they were all slightly different. Jerome by then did not really want to see another religious building. I could understand he felt it was more of the same, and he had already seen so many cathedrals before. We persuaded him to at least come in and have a look, even if it was for just a few minutes. Once inside both if us were in awe, I did not know where to look. The ceiling was stunning, the carved wooden angels and flowers were painted with gold with a black background for contrast. There also was an impressive mural in the dome, directly over the altar. The nave was edged by rows of columns and arches, underneath I could see more murals along the walls. Jerome and Chris had already left the cathedral, while I took some photos.
Jerome was happy when we finally left the square behind and headed for an ice cream and a change of scenery. We walked along the medieval wall of Pisa and ended up at Via Guglielmo Oberdan. This street was lined with many shops and restaurants. We found some seats on the terrace in the early evening sun and enjoyed an Italian coffee while Jerome enjoyed a second gelato of the day. On our way back to our car, Jerome spotted a toyshop with a Lego tower in the window, and where we spent a long time looking at Lego and the like.
After all the walking around town, we were tired and went for dinner at a restaurant close to the hotel. Jerome was happy that he had finally seen and climbed the tower while Chris and I certainly enjoyed the walk around the town and the botanical gardens as well.