Living In Italy
Travel In Italy
The Magical Gift of Failure in Pisa
You’ve heard of the Leaning Towers, and quite possibly this magical failure in Pisa is all you’ve heard. Many tourists flock to see the towers, unaware of all that Pisa has to offer. What began as a small enclave in 1,000 B.C. developed into a bustling hub of architecture and a proud nation state during the medieval era that warred with nearby Firenze and Lucca throughout its troubled history.
Pisa is home to the famous Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), which also contains the Piazza del Duomo (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, attracting millions of tourists from around the globe every year. Lord knows you need a miracle with the towers are slumping and becoming renown as the failure of Pisa throughout all of Italy!
Despite hundreds of years distance from the time of Pisa’s great wars with other Tuscan nation states, some derision among Italians remain. Many other Tuscan towns still point to Pisa with derision. And often the city’s unique characteristics are not highlight by tourists guides. See the tower and move on. But move on too fast, and you’ll miss a city steeped in local culture, home to a thriving university, a place for modern entertainment, like the Keith Herring mural Tuttomondo in the city square. Haring’s connection to Pisa speaks to exactly how different this city is from many of the other historic gems in Toscana.
A miracle failure of Pisa now a gem
Ok, but let’s circle back to the reason why we know of Pisa and these amazing leaning failure of Pisa towers. Think for a minute and dwell on it. Think of the money spent, the workers, the engineers in charge building this amazing edifice as a monument to this naval nation-state’s growing power and influence. Lifetimes were spent dedicated to its construction between 1173 A.D. and finally completed in 1372 A.D.
We can imagine what came next as the tower started to slowly, but surely lean. You can imagine them looking at it, tilting their heads a bit… Could this be really leaning?!
Much to the dismay of the engineers and builders, the grounds, made up of shifting sands, were not solid enough to withstand the weight of all the marble, and thus caused the tower to sink, forcing it to lean.
And that’s where the magical miracle came in. Somehow, they were able to stop the lean before it became a fall, keeping the tower to this day. Still a tower, something you can scale, and not a ruin of historical rubble on the ground.
Visiting the tower is a unique experience, something akin to seeing the Great Pyramid of Giza for the first time. Although not as immense, the craftsmanship of the rounding columns on every level and the Cathedral Bell challenge the visitor to imagine the difficult labor of love that took two hundred years.
But do us one favor: Please don’t be one of the tourist lined up trying to get an ‘Gram shot of “holding up the tower.” Talk about a cliche!
We tried to figure out who did it first, because that was the last time it was a funny idea, but no luck finding the source on the web. Do you know? Comment below. In the meantime, our best travel like a local tip is turn away from the camera (notice how they all have their back to the tower??) and take in this amazing miraculous failure of Pisa.
Pisa is more than a tower
However the tower is not the only attraction of Pisa as the entire complex warrants the same admiration. The Cathedral of Pisa is itself an icon of Italian design, boasting an intricately designed dome born of Tuscany’s unique designs.
The Piazza dei Miracoli sits adjacent to the Cathedral and the tower, which is a pleasant knoll of grass, housing the old gothic baptistry, which is filled with panels by the renowned sculptor Nicola Pisano.
The baptistry is also famous for its acoustics and a pulpit sculpted by Pisano, reflecting the Renaissance classical style.
Aside from the architectural wonders Pisa has to offer, the city itself has a plethora of small restaurants and cafes to pique the interest of those not grounded in the arts, but for the amazing food and wine Tuscany has to offer.
The Gioco del Ponte (Giòo der Ponte in Pisano) is a historical re-enactment that every year, on the last Saturday in June (up to and including the 2008 edition, was the last Sunday in June), takes place on the Ponte di Mezzo in Pisa.
The Game, in which the Magistracies (representing the city districts) gathered in the Parts of Mezzogiorno and Tramontana (south and north of the Arno) face each other, consists, in the contemporary version, in pushing a trolley along a track specially mounted on the Ponte di Mezzo. Before the Battle, the historical procession takes place, made up of 710 figures, 41 of whom on horseback, all in sixteenth-century Spanish style costumes. The procession winds its way along the four roads that run along the central stretch of the Arno river (the so-called Lungarni).
Travel Like a Local Tips:
- If you can fly into Pisa, do so! You can fly anywhere in Europe from the United States, so hunt for the best airline prices. Then switch to an economy flight into Pisa, which is an easy airport to get to. Take the Pisa Mover just outside the airport to central Pisa. Stay one day, see the towers and then take off from there to other points of destination including an easy train to Firenze through our home of Lucca or down the coastline to Roma or UP the coastline to Cinque Terre!
- While visiting the tower, check out the surrounding walls. You can walk right into the centro historico along the walls. It’s worth the effort to wander around and see this little known part of the Pisa experience.
- The central station to Pisa is a big hub of connections but just one more stop toward Lucca is where you can get off and see the failure of Pisa, i.e. the magnificent Leaning Towers. Go just four more stops and arrive in Lucca, home of Puccini!
- Catch a soccer game if you can. Pisa is Serie B, which means not the “big leagues” but its passionate fans are well worth the price of admission.