Pisa. Peeza. The very word conjures up images of this tall, white marble, Romanesque building that leans- famous Torre Pendante-Leaning Tower. This iconic structure was certainly on my bucket list. Although, the reason was simply because of its notoriety. I never really understood why the tower leaned nor the importance of this once powerful Tuscan city. So, before visiting this tower, I decided to educate myself.
The first thing I learned was that Pisa wasn’t just this famous leaning tower. Pisa is believed to have been settled by the Etruscans (although I was never fortunate enough to have seen any ruins) and then later was a Roman colony. Pisa was a thriving metropolis and powerful port city with trading links with Spain and North Africa during the 11th to 13th centuries. After many wars and once the Arno River began to silt up, Pisa lost its navy edge and, thus, much of its power. Pisa is home to a top rated University that found its beginning in 1343 and several other colleges, making it a young and energetic city.
The second thing I learned was that it wasn’t just this leaning tower in the middle of a city, as I once thought due to the plethora of pictures, drawings and caricatures that I have seen since my youth. Instead, it lies on expansive deep green lawns that also have the other significant religious buildings, including the Duomo (cathedral) and the Baptistry. The Tower is actually the bell tower or Campanile. All of these magnificent buildings lean slightly on this “Field of Miracles” or Campo del Miracoli. Moorish elements combine with the Roman and Gothic influences to create a stunning sight.
Finally, I learned why the tower leans. Yes, I am 40+ and I never really knew why the tower leaned. The tower leans simply because of the sandy subsoil upon which it and the other buildings lie. Building of the tower began in 1173 and began to tilt before the third storey was completed. It was finally completed in 1350 and leans 17.5 feet from being vertical since its inception.
Driving into Pisa, we saw the Leaning Tower in the distance. “There it is!” my husband excitedly shouted. How he saw it while weaving in and out of Italian traffic, I’ll never know. As we walked closer and closer to the tower, it was just as I had seen in pictures: Bright white and stately, yet with delicate details around each column and arcade. Much larger than I thought.
The only thing left to do was to take the cheesy photos of us holding up this ancient bell tower. Oh, and yes, to buy a mini tower or two. I’ve got a mini Eiffel Tower waiting at home that it will look perfect next to!