What round the world trip is complete without a cheesy record of all the places I have visited. While I do jumping shots in many iconic spots, there’s only one pose that’s appropriate for the Leaning Tower of Pisa! That’s right, it’s the cheesiest possible photo, and one that has been done to death by tons of people the world, but it happened. My bestie Jenn and I had both never seen the UNESCO listed Piazza del Duomo in Pisa. Not only does it look beautiful, but we wanted a chance to hold up the leaning tower, then knock it over, and to make general fools of ourselves. Plus, we had just hiked Cinque Terre and the train to Florence passes right through Pisa. It was begging us to pop into town for a little exploration and a few quick shots in front of this iconic Italian building.
Discovering the Leaning Tower of Pisa
We hopped off the train in Pisa, and I am not sure why, but for some reason I expected the leaning tower to immediately within sight. But when we left the train station, my seeking gaze was disappointed to learn that it wasn’t adjacent to the train station. Call it poor planning on our parts, but we had neither a map nor directions on how to actually get to the Leaning Tower.
With the many other tourists visiting, I had expected that it would be straightforward, but it took a bit of figuring out. It’s still very easy to visit as a day trip, however, once you have directions! We had decided to pop into Pisa for just a couple of hours for pictures of the tower, lunch, and then onward to Florence. For that reason, we also had our backpacks with us! With the sun beating down on us, it added a good bit of pressure for us to make quick work of sussing out directions.
We searched the bus timetable for directions, but the tower wasn’t directly listed. My cousin and I have a bit of Italian under our belts, and Jenn speaks Spanish, so we split up to question strangers on how to get to the tower. I visited in a time pre-smartphones, so you can just use Google Maps to find your way now, of course.
Eventually, a really nice Italian guy took pity on me. We were having trouble communicating in our mangled Italian/English, so he grabbed my hand, walked me 500 feet around a corner, and deposited me at a bus stop with firm instructions on which bus to take. I thanked him profusely with a mille grazie and hollered for Jenn and Helen to join me at the bus stop. After just two minutes, we boarded Bus 4 and it dropped us off on the doorstep of the Leaning Tower of Pisa!
My cousin Helen had already visited the Tower, so she planned to spend the afternoon in a coffee shop catching up on work (like me, she works online). Jenn and I dropped our backpacks behind Helen’s chair in the coffee shop, and then headed into the Leaning Tower complex to explore and take photos. It’s not huge, so it’s easy to explore in an hour or two.
Everything gleams. The church, the bell tower. It’s all limestone structures coated in white marble and it’s stunning. Even more though, this strong tall marble juts at a precarious angle from the ground. With the church nearby, and other tall and straight buildings in contrast, it seems like a building better suited for a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum.
Why Does the Leaning Tower of Pisa Lean? A History
Construction on the bell tower first broke ground in 1173, and it would take just shy of 200 years to construct the tower. And one would think that the lean only came later, as the earth moved, or perhaps as the result of an earthquake. But that’s not the case. The ground was too soft on one side of the construction site, and this soft foundation caused the building to start slowly sinking as soon as the workers began constructing the second story—this is why the building tilts. As they finished the building, the builders attempted to correct the tilt. In later centuries they would replace many of the lower columns with stronger substances to withstand the unnatural weight of the building. The book TILT: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa is a great source of fascinating information. As recently as 2001, building engineers worked to lessen the tilt. Usually weight like that is distributed across many columns, but with the pronounced lean, it puts a tremendous stress on a substance not accustomed to carrying that much weight across the centuries.
The bell tower (now bell-less to relieve weight from the structure) and the the spectacular cathedral are the highlights of visiting Pisa. Jenn and I didn’t pay to go up the tower, but we did enter through the back entrance of the cathedral so Jenn could pray. After that exploring, we took many fun leaning photos. Then we grabbed lunch and a gelato, strapped on our packs, and headed back to the Tower for a group photo with my cousin. Since we all dearly love gelato, we wanted a picture of the three of us with our packs, ice cream, and all of the tower. This is actually a tall order (no pun intended). As I am sure everyone has experienced, some people just don’t seem to understand that when you ask for a shot of you in front of a major monument, you kind of want the monument, too!
The three of us scoped the area until we spotted two women in their late twenties jabbering in English—perfect. The girl taking the picture was so committed to getting the shot right that she even kneeled on the ground even though she was wearing pristine white pants! Now that is commitment I can respect! The shot looked great, we reciprocated and captured a great one of the two of them, and then the three of us hoofed it over to the bus stop. We needed to continue south to Florence!
Reading: Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov. I traded one of my other books for this, and it’s a creepy book but I am happy to have read it since it’s a cultural touchstone.
Listening: Dookie album by Greenday
Where am I really? Slovenia! And it rained all day.