Travel with me

2016-11-02 06:00
With my family at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Photo: carolyn borchard

With my family at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Photo: carolyn borchard

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LET us “lean in to Pisa” this week.

I always wanted to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, not that it’s in the same category as the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building, but because it has a sort of mystique about it. Easily reachable by train from either Savona or Genoa (or Milan or Rome for that matter), Pisa is a surprisingly small town.

From the train station, it is walking distance to a number of inexpensive, perfectly acceptable small hotels and in turn, it is an easy and delightful walk to the tower itself.

But what a shock - it is so small. Well, relatively speaking that is. I was almost disappointed, but at the same time certainly intrigued because it most definitely does lean.

Humans make mistakes and it was a mistake in the 11th century, which resulted in this 14 500 ton leaning tower, which later became a symbol of civic pride. The construction of the tower began in 1173 and using columns and arches.

The tower represented an advanced understanding of weight and load characteristics, but what wasn’t accounted for was the base of the tower being built on a dense section of clay. The tower actually stood upright for five years, but after the completion of the third floor, it began to lean.

Construction was then halted for 100 years. Four more floors were then added and the tower leaned even more as a result of an attempt to compensate for the original tilt.

In 1319, the seventh floor was completed and the bell-chamber was added in 1732. It was then left alone until the 19th century.

In 1964, Italy asked for help to prevent the tower toppling, wanting to retain its lean though, because of its significance to the tourism of the region.

In 1987 it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site and in 1990 it was closed, the bells were removed and it was properly anchored. It re-opened in 2001, sturdy and safe and remains an icon.

A train trip to Pisa along the Italian coast from Genoa, passes through La Spezia, the gateway to the Cinque Terre (another whole chapter on its own and sheer delight), so combining the latter with Pisa makes for a wonderful trip.

Pisa is served by a nice little airport with connections to many European cities. As the Italians would say: Un’esperienza piacevole saluti.

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