The Leaning Tower of Pisa
So is a title even necessary for this post? Or did you miss it peeking out from behind the cathedral? The Leaning Tower of Pisa is certainly one of the most recognized monuments on the planet. It’s the perfect place to start a trip to Tuscany and Umbria, and it’s also a great day trip if you happen to be in Florence. What? Too typical, too beaten-track you say?
Travelers with a major ‘tude might write the tower off as the ultimate travel cliché. It’s not. The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa and the stunning cathedral complex, including its monumental baptistry, are serious traveler eye-candy. If you need a more highbrow motivation, it’s the perfect place to study the very unique Pisan take on Romanesque architecture and search for hints of early Gothic. And, of course, there’s the whole leaning thing.
A Bit of History on The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Conspiracy theorists specializing in the Middle Ages (who knew they existed?) have suggested that the tower was intentionally constructed to lean to give Pisa its own special “slant.” That seems highly unlikely considering the high costs of the materials used and the risk of having the tower collapse. Realists and those pesky historical records provide a more mundane explanation that the soil started to shift while the third floor was being built. Oops. By the time the tower was completed in 1319, it was already leaning about one degree. It just got worse from there.
The first time I visited in 1992, visitors were not allowed to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa because it was leaning a bit TOO much. Engineers were struggling to stabilize the tower and develop a long-term plan to prevent the tower from falling. It took more than a decade and several attempts before the tower was finally secured and reopened to the public in 2001. Yay!
Climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Climbing the tower is a rather unique experience. First of all, you’re climbing a circular staircase in an inclined building. As if that weren’t enough, centuries of feet awkwardly making their way up the Leaning Tower have worn away the stairs in an uneven way making the climb even more cumbersome. But it’s definitely worth what feels like a drunken climb for the views over the cathedral, the Pisa city walls, and the Tuscan countryside beyond.
Even if you aren’t interested in the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the interior of the cathedral alone is worth the trip to Pisa. It’s a visual explosion with bands of white and dark green marble, an opulently gilded ceiling, walls lined with massive paintings, Byzantine-influenced mosaics by Cimabue, and a pulpit by Giovanni Pisano (who did much of the sculpture on the facade of the Sienna Cathedral).
While the entire complex is unquestionably beautiful, there is some debate about the high cost of visiting the tower. I generally hate ever-increasing entry fees and the over-commercialization of the world’s cultural heritage, but I’m going to keep my mouth shut on this one. Clearly, tickets are priced to reduce the number of people climbing the Leaning Tower. Beyond that, stabilizing the tower and saving it for future generations was quite an accomplishment and ongoing work will be necessary. At least the whopping entry fee of 18 € is actually helping to accomplish something.
Plan Your Trip to Pisa
When to Go – The best months to visit Pisa are generally April through October with the exception of July and August when it gets gruelingly hot and humid in Tuscany. While November through March can be quite chilly, there are fewer tourists and lower prices. We have been to Tuscany in November and had plenty of sun, so you might be lucky.
Visiting Hours – Opening and closing times for Pisa’s attractions vary from season to season. For current visiting hours, check the official website for Piazza dei Miracoli’s famous monuments. Generally, the baptistery and the cathedral open later and close earlier than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so keep this in mind when planning your visit. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visiting hours might be reduced or monuments might even close altogether. Again, make sure to check their website for anouncements.
Pisa Monument Prices – Prices vary by monument. As of July 2020, the Leaning Tower of Pisa tickets are 18 €. This is obviously their big money maker. All the other monuments are offered at bulk rate. If you want to visit an additional monument besides the Leaning Tower, it’s an extra 5 €; if you want to visit two additional monuments, it’s 7 €, and so forth. There is no entrance fee for the cathedral. Tickets can be booked in advance. Make sure to buy your tickets at the official booking site (www.opapisa.it/en) to avoid the ridiculous fees charged by some of their competitors.
Pisa Tours – With such monumental history around, exploring Pisa on your own can quickly become overwhelming. For those who are interested in sharing this experience with other like-minded travelers, we recommend checking out some of Viator’s guided walking tours. This way, you can skip the lines and get the most important historic facts.
But Tuscany is not just famous for its art. If you want to explore some traditional Tuscan food in nearby Florence, we recommend taking a food tour or cooking class with Eating Italy Food Tours. We took several food tours with them in Rome and can’t rave enough about their expert food guides.
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