European Escapades

Pottering in Pisa




Doesn't look like it's leaning at all?
Doesn’t look like it’s leaning at all?

Heading down the west cost of Italy towards our chosen campsite near the town of Pisa, we got our first glimpse of the famous tower in the distance to our left. It may sound corny, but seeing something you have only heard about or seen pictures of, with your own eyes for the first time is truly magical. Although smaller than I had imagined, it still stirred the sense of travel adventure we always get when we see something so iconic and well known on our travels. The actual trip to the tower was going to be the next day after we had settled into our chosen overnight stop and rested for the afternoon. The day of the trip the sun was out and blue skies with wispy white clouds were overhead. It was a great day to see the leaning tower of Pisa.

But wait, something is wrong or do we have the wrong town altogether? Because as we looked at the tower it looked fairly straight to us…

Frances has managed to push it back over
Frances has managed to push it back over.

Fortunately Frances was on hand to set thing back on an even keel, or maybe a wonky keel would be a better description. It’s funny how we have adjusted our concept of what could only have been a bodge job by a set of cowboy builders at the time of it’s construction, into an historic landmark, famous all over the world for a poor job. I don’t know what the original customer thought of the job, but if it was me I would not have been very happy. It seems that from a small donation from a woman called Donna Berta di Bernardo, the first foundation stones were laid in 1173. By 1178 the builders must have known they were in trouble, as after the addition of the second floor it began to sink. The cowboys had only used a three metre foundation in weak subsoil. It took over a hundred years for someone to come and give the tower another go (A few nasty wars with their neighbours kept them too busy for DIY jobs it seems), by building upper floors taller on one side and shorter on the other. So in effect the tower curves rather than leans. Finally finished with a bell-chamber in 1372 it is not really known who actually started the build, as no-one was it seems willing to own up to it. The biggest joke though is the amount of money and expertise that has been used to keep it from toppling over since 1964, when the Italian government asked for help to keep it standing. Not a great builders job reference really. However Pisa is not just about the bell tower, as the Cathedral and surrounding piazza are more magnificent than the tower in my opinion. But you do get some good photo opportunities from it.

Some way out looking hats
Some way out looking hats.

The Camposanto Monumentale (Cemetery to you and me) and the museum opposite that hold the Sinopie or preliminary drawings for the frescos that adorn the cemetery walls was the best part of the experience. The cemetery is scattered with Roman sarcophagi and the graves of many notable people and was a delight to walk around. In the Museum de Sinopie, apart from the drawings there were also some clothes created for various films of Romeo & Juliet and a collection of hats that looked quite way out. It is not until you go to the cemetery and you see the exact same hats in the frescos, that you realise they were based on original drawings. We ended up wandering around the Museum and cemetery for over two hours after our five minute potter around the tower. As with most cathedrals, the Duomo in Pisa is absolutely stunning both inside and out, with the copper reliefs on the huge doors at the entrance promising a grand spectacle of opulence inside. We were not to be disappointed as the high dome and altar were a golden delight, showing the genius of the artists that created them. Frances as always likes to light two candles, unfortunately modern convenience did not allow for that as the candles had been replaced by electric bulbs that light up with the addition of a coin, rather like an arcade machine. Maybe the next church we will fare better.

They really must have worn hats like that
They really must have worn hats like that.
View of the Doumo and Tower
View of the Doumo and Tower.

The fresco'ed cemetery
The fresco’ed cemetery.

Frances wandering through the Roman sarcophagi
Frances wandering through the Roman sarcophagi.

So tourist bits done, we wandered off to find a cash machine and a good artisan ice cream maker in town to allow us to explore what the rest of Pisa had to offer, before heading back to the campervan and our onward journey. Just one more thing of note, one of the roads back to the campsite seems to have been built by the same company that got the contract to build the tower of Pisa.

Is this the same contractors responsible for the bell tower?
Is this the same contractors responsible for the bell tower?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 at 8:10 pm and is filed under Travel Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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