The Leaning Tower of Pisa: An overrated tourist attraction or a sight worth the trip? An architectural marvel or an engineering mistake of epic proportions?Decide for yourself! There is much more to Piazza dei Miracoli than simply the tower we all know and love. The Field of Miracles is an expansive complex housing several ornate buildings atop a well-manicured lawn. Beyond the famous Leaning Tower, the plaza features the Pisa Cathedral, Baptistery, and a monumental Cemetery. These structure all hail from Pisa’s Golden Age, from the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, when the city was a major maritime power of the Mediterranean.
When visiting the Tuscany region, a stop at Pisa, just an hour train ride from Florence or Cinque Terre, is a must!The original design for the tower (Torre Pendente) was a 197 foot tall, circular, eight-story column of white marble. Construction began in 1173, and after five years when the third floor was built, it began to lean from a foundation built on soft clay. The process was interrupted so often by wars, debt and while engineers worked on solutions to correct the lean, that it took a whopping 136 years to complete.
This glorious structure boasts 207 columns and spiral staircase of 297 steps leading to the top floor encasing the bell chamber. Unlike most buildings constructed in Europe for religious purposes, the tower was simply symbol of the wealth of the city. By 1319, the tower was finally finished, but the symbol of Pisa’s power didn’t last long because in 1392, the Renaissance began, and Florence claimed the entire city-state of Pisa.The upper levels of the tower were built at an angle to offset the lean. If you look closely, you can see a slight curve. The tower is now 186 ft on its tallest side and 183 ft on the lowest. It has tilted an extra millimeter every year since construction and is currently 14.6 feet or 5 degrees off balance. In 2008 engineers declared that the tower has stopped leaning and should remain stable for the next 300 years.
It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Climb to the top of the tower for sweeping views of the small city below. Tickets are 18 euros and it takes about 30 minutes to climb the 297 steps. Be sure to purchase your tickets in advance online to schedule a designated time and avoid waiting in long lines during peak season. It does get crowded!
Free tickets are available to the Pisa Cathedral (il Duomo) Baptistery (Battistero), Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, and the monumental Cemetery (Campo Santo Monumentale ). There exteriors are ornamental, with intricately-carved reliefs, with more plain interiors that may not be worth pushing through crowds to see.
Perfecting that cliche tourist shot, holding up the tower from toppling over is actually more difficult that it looks!Nailed it! Don’t be afraid to cheese it up – everyone will be doing it!Be prepared, the plaza is a 30 minute walk from your arrival at Pisa Centrale train station. Hail a taxi if you’re short on time, but if not, soak in the sights along the way! Outside of the station, you will be greeted by Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, the heart of the town, boasting a vibrant cafe scene, along with a slew of Romanesque buildings, Gothic churches and Renaissance piazzas.
Cross the square and into Corso Italia, the most popular street of Pisa for shopping. Head up the street to stumble across Logge dei Banchi, before crossing the Ponte della Fortezza bridge to cross the Arno River. Admire the San Sepolcro church, Church of San Matteo and National Museum full of Italian art. The city itself is known for its elite university, where Galileo studied and taught in the 16th century. Fair warning: As a tourism location, it is not uncommon to be swarmed with pushy vendors selling sunglasses, selfie sticks and counterfeit luxury goods. It’s easiest just to ignore them and push on your way. If you are so inclined to buy a souvenir, be sure to “haggle” or shop around and they will drop the inflated price drastically.
Avoid eating near the Leaning Tower where prices are high and quality is low. For the best bang for your buck, head instead to the central area, a 5-10 minute walk from the Plaza to find cheap food in the vegetable market, Piazza delle Vettovaglie or Via San Martino, on the south bank of the river.With that, I leave you to discover for yourself the ancient Tuscan gem of Pisa!