Pisa – everything a bit crooked…

Pisa – everything a bit crooked…

Actually, in German it is always said that crooked is English and therefore modern… In the italian city of Pisa crooked has probably an almost thousand-year-old tradition. The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa is there at the very beginning, but also with the city development probably some things have not gone so straight – to the chagrin of the Pisans and to the triumph of Florence.

The leaning tower of Pisa – landmark with unintentional fame

Apart from a few startled German education ministers, for whom the word Pisa regularly brings beads of sweat to their panic-stricken foreheads (because of a international education test for pupils, called “PISA”), all other inhabitants of the world immediately think of the leaning tower. It has had long enough to acquire this fame. The construction of the Pisa tower began as early as 1173 and twelve years later, when it had just reached the fourth floor, the inclination was already visible. The incomplete completion of the tower took almost 200 years due to interruptions in construction and it turned out to be a significant number smaller. Instead of 100m height, the Leaning Tower is only 56m high – but already with 3.60m deviation from the vertical!

This is world class – and attracts thousands of tourists every year to the small central Italian city on the Arno. And they also make fun of it. Most push or hold the tower, posing for a quick cell phone photo, with a smile on their face and despite their water-soup-thin figure. Some risk head and neck for the crooked tower – picture.

The Pisans even knew to wrest something good from the whole. After all, the scholar Galileo Galilei, a native of Pisa, is said to have discovered the laws of falling from the Leaning Tower. And the marketing of the strange building probably brings Pisa a good part of the annual income. That’s what I call sustainable tourism promotion!

Leaning tower Pisa - tower pusher and supporter
… just because one pushes!
Artistic contortions on the Leaning Tower in Piazza dei Miracoli
Some risk head and neck…

The Square of Miracles – Pisa’s Piazza dei Miracoli

The Leaning Tower, the Torre pendente, can be found in the northwest of Pisa’s Santa Maria district. At the Piazza dei Miracoli, the square of the miracles. Actually, it is simply called Piazza del Duomo, Cathedral Square. But hardly any Pisan speaks of it, and certainly no visitor. The most important sights of Pisa are gathered at this Piazza dei Miracoli – besides the Torre pendente also the Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta), the Baptistery (Battistero di San Giovanni), the Camposanto Monumentale, the Cathedral Museum and the Museo delle Sinopie.

Well, and other small attractions such as the column with the suckling wolf Lupa Capitolina, another chapel, sculptures, city walls and gates and lots of onlookers. These mostly with a somewhat pity – amused smirk “How can you build such a funny leaning tower“, but that lifts the general mood. Actually, the question should be “How do you manage that such a leaning tower has not fallen down for over 600 years?” – that demands some respect! So, naming the square of wonders in this way has its justification.

Pisa in Italy: Piazza dei Miracoli cathedral and baptistery
Piazza dei Miracoli

Whole Ensemble in marble

Besides the Leaning Tower, the Cathedral of Pisa is a very beautiful building. To the west of the cathedral still stands the Baptistry. Behind the square, as a northern section, the Camposanto Monumentale, a cemetery complex with an enclosed rectangular courtyard. In general, the whole ensemble in the cathedral square is worth seeing. The best time to visit is when the weather is sunny and the sky is blue, then the many white marbles look very animated.

Pisa Piazza dei Miracoli - Fontana dei Putti
Fontana dei Putti

The contrasting green meadow areas, cordoned off with chains and concentrating the streams of visitors on wide marble slab paths, give the square a spacious and sublime appearance. Here someone has obviously thought about the best ensemble – effect. In general, the marble used from the region is impressive, both in its own coloring with fine color lines and shades, and in the workmanship. The Baptistery, Cathedral and Leaning Tower are beautiful buildings that testify to great design achievements and high craftsmanship of the builders. For the Leaning Tower alone, 14,200 tons of white Cararra marble were used. Since 1987, the entire ensemble in Piazza dei Miracoli with the Baptistery, Cathedral and Leaning Tower has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pisa Baptistery in the Piazza dei Miracoli
Baptistery

A bell tower for the Cathedral of Pisa

The Leaning Tower belongs to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, even if it is in an unusual place for it. For it is the bell tower to the cathedral. The design of the Leaning Tower is also unique for a “campanile“. While most of these bell towers were built with a square base and a pointed hipped roof, the Leaning Tower is a cylinder. The entrance floor is a closed round with a column framed round arch – portal. Above it there are six floors, the exterior of which is formed by the columns of circumferential arcades. Behind it there is a closed cylinder as a tower room.

On top of it there is a belfry for the bells of the Cathedral of Pisa, which currently have seven voices. To avoid major mechanical loads on the tower statics, the bells are only struck from the inside by electric hammers – daily at the noon hour and before church services in the cathedral. If you look closely, you will also notice that attempts were made during construction to compensate for the incipient slope of the tower. Above all, the belfry stands clearly more upright on the leaning column cylinder of Pisa. This means that not only is the whole tower of Pisa leaning, but it is also “crookedly built” in itself.

Why is the Pisa leaning tower so crooked?

To find out the reasons for the inclination of the tower has taken many centuries. According to the rules of architecture, the Leaning Tower in Pisa was certainly correctly calculated and erected – but the building ground was unsuitable. However, the builders were not yet able to assess this.

Boundary layers in the subsoil

Entrance to the leaning tower of Pisa
Entrance to the leaning tower

It is assumed that the tower stands on the boundary of different soil layers – a clay layer and a harbor basin that was already silted up at the time of construction and is no longer recognizable. As a result, part of the foundation sags more under the load – the tower leans. Through modern measurements it was also recognized that besides the inclination there was also a rotation. Since 1911, the movement of the tower has been continuously observed. In 1990, the inclination increased up to 5° and cracks appeared. As a result, the tower was locked. Lead bars were used to stop the inclination. Steel tires had to stabilize several floors. Later, steel cables were also installed. As of 1993, about 900 tons of lead were lying in bars on the northeast side of the tower, piles several meters high.

Extensive renovation and clearance

It was not until 1998 that the decision was made to carry out a fundamental remediation procedure by soil extraction. In this process, large amounts of soil were extracted by drilling on the higher northeast side. The leaning tower was straightened by 1.5 degrees or 40 cm. This corresponds roughly to the increase in inclination over the last 200 years. After stabilization of the foundation area and repair of the damage, the tower was reopened in 2001. It is expected that the restoration will have a stabilizing effect on the Leaning Tower for about 300 years. Since the reopening, visits to and inside the Leaning Tower have been possible. The tower can be climbed via the interior spiral staircase to the belfry. There is an all-round viewing platform accessible.

Pisa – from a maritime republic to a student city

The Italian city of Pisa is the capital of the province of the same name, Pisa, in Tuscany and is located near the mouth of the Arno River into the Ligurian Sea, a section of the Mediterranean Sea. Pisa has about 91,400 inhabitants.

Pisa even has its own regional language, Pisan, with its own script, which has partially survived to the present day.

Church  Santo Antonio in Pisa
Church Santo Antonio

Wars, competition and defeats – Pisa in the shadow of powerful neighbors

Originally, Pisa, like so many European cities, was a Roman settlement. The remains of the terme romagneBagni di Nerone , a Roman wellness thermal bath on the northern city wall right next to the city gate Porta a Lucca still bear witness to this today.

Pisa was a city-state and one of the maritime republics in the Middle Ages. The port on the Arno and the extensive trading activities of Pisan merchant families ensured rapid development and widespread influence in the northern Mediterranean. But even with Pisa’s power in the region, things kept going wrong. There were constant disputes and wars over the offshore island of Elba, as well as over Corsica and Sardinia. The islands were long in the hands of Saracens, who were a constant threat to the port and shipping in the Ligurian Sea.

But political differences – Pisa was a city-state of the nobility, while Florence, for example, was a city-public of bourgeois merchants – and the struggle for influence and economic advantages between the city-states meant that Pisa was constantly threatened and had to endure prolonged wars and sieges. Besides Florence, the cities of Lucca and Genoa in particular were competitors, some of which formed alliances against Pisa. A city wall with towers and gates, which surrounds a large part of the old town quarters of Pisa, still bears witness to this period.

Pisa Porta Nuovo City gate in the town wall
Porta Nuovo

After all these battles and wars, Pisa finally lost its independence to Florence in 1406. Especially important for Florence was the unhindered free access to the port.

In 1409, the city was the scene of disputes within the European church at the Council of Pisa. Actually, these were supposed to be settled at the council, but that also went wrong. The Council of Pisa temporarily led to the rule of three competing popes – Pisa, Rome and Avignon were thereafter papal – seat.

Scholars and University – Pisa as a center of higher education

Despite all the defeats and losses in the struggle for regional supremacy, Pisa also has a high artistic-historical importance. The city is the home of the polymath Galileo Galilei and the medieval mathematician Leonardo da Pisa, known today mainly as Fibonacci. The latter was able to study the Indian-Arabic number system through stays in Algeria and other Arab countries and formulate his findings based on it. A personal monument among mathematicians is the Fibonacci – sequence named after him.

Especially under the rule of the Medici in Florence, Pisa was not completely written off as a troublesome competitor and province. The Medici tried to give Pisa its own role in some fields. Under Cosimo de Medici, Pisa’s university grew into a place of research and teaching, which to this day is of great importance to all of Italy and enjoys international recognition. In addition to the university, several colleges, including two of Italy’s elite universities, are located in Pisa. Among the inhabitants of Pisa, more than a third, about 40,000, are students, which is clearly reflected in the cityscape and in the social structure of the city.

Museums in Pisa

Besides the main attraction of Pisa, the Piazza dei Miracoli with the Leaning Tower, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the Baptistery and the historic cemetery Camposanto Monumentale, there are several museums in the city for an interested public.

Directly in Piazza Duomo there is also the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo. This is primarily the home of the cathedral treasury of the Pisan Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. There is also a sculpture collection with originals by Pisa masters. The museum’s cloister becomes the venue for classical music and jazz concerts from mid-June to early July each year.

Italy Pisa: Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo

Also in Piazza dei Miracoli, on the southern edge is the Museo delle Sinopie. The sinopias are sketches and designs for frescoes, mosaics or oil paintings. Natural pigments in ocher or reddish-brown iron oxide compounds were used as paint. The Museo in Piazza Duomo shows the designs for frescoes of the Camposanto Monumentale, practically vis á vis opposite.

Museo degli Strumenti di Calcolo – this museum near the Torre di Sant Agnese is dedicated to the ancestors of computers. It focuses on the history of computer science and data processing and displays, among other things, mechanical tools used by scientists, such as old calculating machines. This is particularly interesting, since Fibonacci also dealt scientifically with the abacus and other Arabic calculating tools.

Another museum that cannot be found everywhere is the Museo delle navi antiche di Pisa. Here, at excavation sites of Roman ships and Etruscan port facilities, about 30 shipwrecks, some still with cargo, have been processed. The museum is located in Via Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli.

Travel tips for Pisa

Pisa is the capital of a province of the same name in the Tuscany region of central Italy. The city is located on the Arno River, a few kilometers before it flows into the Ligurian Sea in the Mediterranean Sea.

Physical Map Pisa and Tuscany

Arrival in Pisa

If you want to fly to the famous Italian region Tuscany, you can do it through Pisa International Airport. It is even more important than the airport of the Tuscan capital Florence. Pisa simply had more space for expansion and thus the better cards. The Pisa Airport is served from all over Europe, by major airlines such as iberia* (with partners) as well as by low-cost airlines such as easyjet*.

Pisa is easily reached by train* via Florence, the Tuscan capital. Trains between the two cities are frequent and fast, and the journey through the Tuscan countryside is also a short sightseeing tour of the region. The Pisa Centrale train station is located on the southern edge of the old town, not far from it also the Sesta Porta bus station.

Pisa Stazione Centrale (main station)
Stazione Pisa Centrale (main station)

Florence is for Tuscany the key to the Italian high-speed rail network and to the connection with the Central European railroads of Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Florence is also the transfer point for long-distance bus* travel within Europe to Tuscany.

With your own car, rental car* or a camper van*, Pisa can be approached via the A12 highway that runs past to the west (from Turin, Genoa, Viareggio to Livorno and Rome). If you are coming from the north and want to go directly to the main sights of Pisa in the old part of the city, it is best to leave the A12 already from the Pisa – Nord exit. At the bus terminal there are large parking lots including spaces for camper van. From there it is only a few hundred meters to Piazza dei Miracoli. Other parking lots, also including Camper Van are northeast of the center on the road to Lucca.

Note absolutely – also in Pisa the city center is provided with strict entrance – restrictions for private vehicles. Camera-monitored each entrance into the “Zona a Traffico Limitato” is punished. It is therefore highly recommended to leave your car already parked in one of the visitor parking lots on the outskirts of the center.

Between Florence and Pisa there is an expressway SGC FI-PI-LI (Firenze – Pisa – Livorno), which tangents Pisa to the south and joins the A12 southwest of the city. This is the most convenient car connection from Florence to Pisa.

Weather in Pisa

Of course you can travel to Pisa all year round. However, from November to March, even in Tuscany, you have to expect cold, early darkness and increased rain. In contrast, it is usually pleasant from Easter to June or in September and October. In the summer months, Pisa is often overcrowded and there can be heat waves of up to 40°C, which make a stay in the city anything but pleasant.

Different ways to explore the city of Pisa

In Pisa there is not only the possibility to explore the sights individually on two recommended routes. City sightseeing tours are arranged by the Pisa Tourist Information about 100m north of the train station in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele.

In addition, as in many other cities, there are sightseeing buses in the form of double-decker buses with the Caprio roof open at the top. The buses leave from April to October from Piazza Aricivescovado behind the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

On your own, yet a bit brisker, you can do it with rental bikes. The bike rental Tuscany in Tour for individual city exploration in Pisa you will find in Via Ferdinando Capponi.

At Piazza dei Miracoli, horse-drawn carriages also await foot-lame city slickers to discover Pisa’s sights from the comfort of a bench.

Certainly not the right approach for all attractions, but boat tours on the Arno river are something different. These are offered on three different routes (lengths, one of them to the mouth through the natural park) also from April to October. A special highlight can be a Pisa by night – tour, which starts at 22:30 from the pier Scalo dei Ranaioli). This should be booked in advance (info@ ilnavicello.it).

banks of Arno river in Pisa
At Arno river in Pisa
Not on the leaning track, just on the Leaning Tower!

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Everything a little crooked! Pisa
A little crooked… maybe something goes wrong?
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