Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The Legendary Leaning Tower

After catching a train from Florence, we headed toward Pisa tohave a look at arguably one of the worlds most famous architectural triumphs and/or disasters. It is the bell tower for Pisa’s Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo), better known as ‘The Leaning Tower of Pisa’. This is one of the great iconic buildings of Italy that continues to attract tourists to this major Tuscan city. To be honest, Jules and I generally found the city itself a little uninspiring in comparison to Florence, but we had come here on a mission and it wasn’t too long before we began to follow the tourist trail to the cathedral. As we discovered, the Pisa bell tower is just one of a collection of magnificent buildings that make up the cathedral complex called Campo dei Miracoli, which means ‘Field of Miracles’. It is a splendid collection of classic Roman architecture, constructed of white marble that includes not only the familiar leaning tower, but also a magnificent basilica and domed cathedral. Even without its unusual lean, the tower itself would have still attracted visitors over the years, as it a wonderful piece of medieval architectural design. With its unique circular construction and ornate marble arches, it stands eight storeys high and must have originally been regarded as a building triumph. However, so prominent has the lean become that over the years this feature has tended to over shadow its significance as one of the great buildings of the era. From what we learnt, the tower appeared to reveal its structural problems right from the very start. Way back in the 1100’s it became obvious during construction that the ground was beginning to subside and soon the characteristic lean was becoming obvious. By the time of the latest restoration (1990) it had developed into a lean of around 10 degrees, which was then corrected to around 5 degrees in order to prevent it from literally falling over. Today the restoration continues and on the day we were there we could clearly see the workman perched up high, precariously working on the arches. Looking much like a giant white wedding cake that has been accidentally bumped, the tower took pride of place, set starkly against the manicured green lawns. Jules and I particularly enjoying watching the hoards of tourists having their photographs taken, standing in the foreground and posing as if to be pushing the tower upright. There must be millions of these photos in albums throughout the world and I must confess that we took one or two ourselves. Eventually, we sat back on the grass in the warm sun eating pizza in Pisa and just admired the scene. We both agreed that despite or maybe because of it’s lean, the tower was every bit as impressive as anything we had seen in Italy so far.

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