Pisa (7 June 2013)

Since I was in Florence, I thought that I simply had to see that leaning tower in nearby Pisa. I also somehow managed to convince E to take the day trip with me, even though she had already been to Pisa, by helping her realise that she had missed out on a lot in her last trip there. For example, she did not remember seeing the Church of Santa Maria della Spina. I showed her a picture of the church and she thought that it was very cute.

Church of Santa Maria della Spina

We passed by the little church on the way to the leaning tower from the train station and I really wonder how she could have missed it when she was in Pisa previously. Did she parachute onto the leaning tower from a helicopter by any chance?

The leaning tower is in the Square of Miracles (Piazza die Miracoli), more formally the Piazza del Duomo. The square is this large grass field specially reserved for the city’s cathedral complex. The leaning tower is the campanile of the cathedral. There is also a baptistery and a former cemetery forming the rest of the complex.

It costs €18 to visit the tower although the ticket also entitles one to visit the cathedral. This is obviously a tremdendously marked up price for tourists but tourists are all suckers anyway. I am probably one of the biggest suckers of all. I bought a ticket to visit all the buildings in the cathedral complex plus the Museum of the Sinopie. E refused to climb the tower again and in any case she was afraid of heights.

The tower is leaning at an angle of about 5.5°. It is a miracle that it is still standing, albeit at an angle, despite the daily onslaught of suckers like me pounding up the stairs to the very top. But I have to say that the tower is quite a curious sight.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

What is curiouser than the tower however is the tourist tradition of taking a picture of oneself looking like he is holding up the tower. I may be enough of a sucker to pay good money to climb up the tower, but not one big enough to follow this particular tourist tradition. In fact, I much prefer to take photographs of people doing traditional tourist things, especially from behind them.


Visits to the tower are closely regulated because of the number of visitors every day. When you buy a ticket you book it for a specific time and then you visit the tower at that time. I was glad to be able to get a time slot to go up.

It felt strange initially when I first entered the tower. But I quickly adapted and it felt like I was in any ordinary building. And then I saw that it was the world that was in fact leaning.

The climb up was easier than I thought. Being at the top however was for some reason quite scary especially at the edge since it again became clear that I was on a leaning tower. I always felt like I was going to slide off to my death below at any time. I therefore kept to the centre as much as possible and even when I went to the edge to snap some pictures, I moved very very carefully and slowly.

Bells on the leaning tower

View from the leaning tower (even the view is tilted)

There were a number of boxes on the top of the tower and an American tourist asked the attendant what they were for. The attendant did not know. Then the tourist started expounding his theory about what they might be. I am not sure that the attendant was interested but she was very polite.

I could not help but compare the interiors of the cathedrals in Pisa and Florence. When I first saw the inside of the Pisa Cathedral, I remember commenting to E that this was what a cathedral ought to look like. In the world of cathedrals, especially in the major cities of Europe, interior decorations were usually quite opulent. The Florence Cathedral however has an uncharacteristically austere interior in comparison, although I prefer its exterior.

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

Ceiling of Pisa Cathedral

Pulpit in Pisa Cathedral

While at the cathedral, I lit a candle for my little nephew who turned 6 that very day. Maybe one day in the future he will come here on his own and light a candle for me.

Lighting a candle

The baptistery could have been a concert hall. Every now and then an attendant would demonstrate the wonderful acoustics of the building by singing just 3 notes. It was truly wonderful. E somehow did not visit the baptistery during her last visit and so she was quite pleased to hear the acoustics demonstration.

Baptistery of St John

Inside the baptistery

Inside the baptistery looking down from the second floor

The name “Campo Santo”, the former cemetery within the cathedral complex, literally means “holy field” in Italian. Legend has it that the building was built around soil brought from Calvary. However, apparently “campo santo” is Italian for “cemetery” anyway. The former cemetery is in the form of a cloister and I had initially assumed that it was the cloister of a monastery at the cathedral.

E also did not visit the Campo Santo during her last visit. I wonder if she had parachuted onto the leaning tower and then spent the bulk of her last visit trying to take the perfect picture of herself holding it up.

Campo Santo courtyard

Campo Santo hallway

There are fading frescoes on the walls of the building and these are being restored at the time of visit. The original drawings of the frescoes are in the Museum of the Sinopie.

Like almost everyone else, E and I spent most of our time that day at the Square of Miracles. I do wonder what the rest of the old city is like. But it does not look like the Italian government is promoting the rest of the city at all. I suppose if one leaning tower is more than capable of capturing the imagination of the world why bother turning the city into another open air museum like Florence right? All of the Pisan eggs are put into the basket that is the square and they do know how to milk it for whatever it is worth. Even taking a piss is expensive here and entrance to a toilet, like the leaning tower, is by paid ticket only.

€0.50 for a piss

Nevertheless, the sight of the cathedral complex is certainly quite a unique one. I would say that my visit to Pisa could be considered fruitful.

The Square of Miracles

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