My first visit to Florence in April would not be complete without a visit to Pisa given its close proximity (only an hour’s ride via the Trenitalia from Firenze Santa Maria Novella station in Florence to Pisa Centrale – see here to book). It was just Y and myself for this last day in Florence before we were to meet R to continue the rest of our journey to the Lakes and Milan later.
The friendly and always helpful concierge at Gallery Hotel Art, helped us to arrange the train tickets (22 euros each) as well as book a local guide for 2 hours, which we figured might be useful especially trying to orchestrate some interesting photos in front of this famous building. Our tour by a friendly lady Antonella cost us 160 euros, probably a tad expensive, but we decided to splurge just to have an easier time on our own in Pisa.
So after a short 1 hour journey by train, we finally arrived in Pisa Centrale, and it wasn’t hard to spot Antonella who had Y’s name on a board. She proposed to do a walking route so that we could see a bit of the town as well, and we figured some morning exercise might be good for us after all the heavy eating so far in Florence.
Piazza Vittoria Emmanuelle II
Walking through the streets of Pisa town towards Arno River Promenade.
The town looked quite pared down as compared to Florence and was lined with some cafes and tourist shops as we made our way down to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We arrived at the first square piazza called – the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuel. Antonello explained he was the King of Sardinia, and apparently this was one of the rare statues made to commemorate him. We could see some damage in the old buildings since the World War 2 in this area that hasn’t been restored. As we walked on down, I could sense this town which was once a very rich and powerful town in the medieval ages has unfortunately fallen from grace, and Antonello also explained how the city of Pisa evolved to be in this state today. Interestingly, Pisa which used to be an economic powerhouse in the Middle Ages has since been taken over by Florence, and it’s quite apparent as you walk around the town. As we walked down Corso Italia which ran through the main town area, we arrived at the Piazza XX Septembre along the Arno River Promenade. Antonella explained to us the importance of the fortress here, which served to protect the entrance to the town in the past. While you are here, look along the side and you would notice an interesting building Palazzo Gambacorti – which has a gothic style architecture and stands out amongst the other buildings along the promenade.
Near Piazza XX Septembre
Palazzo Gambacorti – 14th century building
Be sure to take some pictures and admire the beautiful scenery along the bridge crossing at the Arno River Promenade. Antonella pointed out to us that one of the buildings along the promenade is also tilting.. see if you can spot which one is it in the picture below 🙂
Arno River Promenade
As we made our way across the bridge, passed through Piazza Garibaldi, we arrived at Piazza delle Vettovaglie where its known for its local markets, and ooh too bad that we had a limited time, otherwise Y and I would have stopped by to get some produce. After walking through these meandering streets, Antonello showed us the famous Knight’s Square where the Palazzo della Carovana is. Interestingly, she told us some of the brainiest people study in the university housed in here, where admissions to get in to this university is super difficult.
Vegetable market in Piazza delle Vettovaglie
Palazzo della Carovana – only for the super smarties!
It wasn’t too long before I got see the famous leaning tower peeking out amidst the low buildings and we finally arrived at this legendary area. We were definitely glad to finally spot the leaning tower after a 30 mins walk from Pisa Centrale under the blazoning hot sun. Just a warning – it’s especially sunny here even when it was only early April, and there’s hardly any foliage or shelter to hide under. So put tons of sun block, wear a big hat and wear airy long sleeve tops if you don’t want to get sun burnt by the Italian Tuscan sun.
I can finally see it!
The Leaning Tower stands amidst the Cathedral and the Baptistry, these latter 2 buildings were built first before the leaning tower came later on the cathedral square. As we made our way down Via Cardinale Maffi Petrio, from where we stood, we saw the Leaning Tower and the Cathedral to its right looking quite majestic. Antonella asked us if we were keen to go up the Leaning Tower, but as Y and I have vertigo, she told me it was wise not to go up as it’s pretty scary once past the 3rd floor. Anyway, we were too lazy to queue as well, given there was a limited number of visitors allowed to go up the Leaning Tower at any one time, in order not to stress the building. If you are thinking what I am thinking, don’t worry, they closed the tower back in 1990 and took that time to reinforce the tower and only reopened it in 2001 to visitors after checking that it’s safe.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa and Cathedral
So just some interesting facts I learned from Antonella about the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
- I always thought that the tower leaned because of just natural regression over time since it was built so many years ago in the 11th century. But thanks to my tour guide she told me it started leaning during construction due to the foundation of the clay mixture it was built on, an important point which the architect had miscalculated and overlooked. So it started leaning after the 3rd floor was built. Yes, only things as cowboy as this could happen in that era without anyone being fined or jailed for committing such an error. But it’s turned out to be a blessing for Pisa.
- It took more than 300 years to build, as construction was naturally halted when citizens and the government noticed the scary leaning tower. Construction was only continued a 100 years later in 1272 with more floors added from this time with some halts here and there, and only completed in 1372 with a total of 8 floors and the bell tower as the finishing touch.
- There’s a lot of sadness surrounding this tower, Antonello told me there’s been many suicides here, as in the past there weren’t any barricades in between the columns due to aesthetic reasons, so unfortunately, many planned and unplanned deaths happened here. Apparently, a family of American tourists witnessed one falling to his or her death, that was the last call and since then transparent barricades were put up on every floor to prevent such horrible things from happening.
As you walk down, it’s interesting to see how the leaning tower looks different from every angle, and the architecture of the surrounding Baptistry which is towards the back of the Cathedral also looks rather grand. It was dedicated to St John the Baptist, and has largely Gothic and Roman influences in its architecture. Of course, after learning about the respective buildings history, it was time to get some fun mucking around and taking interesting shots with the famous tower. You will see me in one of pictures below with Antonella holding me up. Though she was a great guide and had a nice friendly disposition, I have to say she really was not a good photographer, so another tip, don’t expect a travel guide to take photos for you, I mean it when I say that some people just have poor sense of taking pictures with any device.
Kissing the Leaning Tower of Pisa goodbye!