As a kid, I was fascinated with the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Why does it lean? Why was it built that way? Is it ever going to topple over? So on our way from Cinque Terre to Tuscany, I of course, insisted on making a quick stop to see the infamous building in person.
Arriving in Pisa Centrale train station, we took a pleasant mile-long walk to reach the Campo dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). It was there that we got our first glimpse of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was exhilarating. One of those moments where you can’t believe you’re standing in front of something you’ve read about and seen in pictures for so long.
We grabbed lunch at a nearby grocery store and plopped ourselves down in front of the architectural wonder. As we ate, we analyzed and marveled over every detail. Construction of the iconic bell tower began in 1173. It then took over 200 years to complete due to wars, debts and engineers trying to solve the mysterious lean. Built to commemorate Pisa’s newfound fame and power as an important Italian seaport, the complex also included a cathedral, baptistery and cemetery.
But the tower was doomed from the start.
Just eight stories in, architects and engineers noticed the tilt. They traced it to laying foundation stones on soft ground causing the tower to sink. They tried to compensate by constructing subsequent stories slightly taller on the short side of the tower. But the weight of the additional floors simply caused the building to sink further and lean more. Apparently, it’s not getting better. Due to the instability, only 30 people every hour can climb to the top.
After pondering the logistics of the tower, we took part in the obligatory “push-the-Leaning-Tower-of-Pisa” photos. When we’d had our fill of photo ops (and persistent African hawkers trolling the area), we escaped the tourist-filled university section, making our way to the tranquil southern part of town. At the Ponte di Mezzo (The Halfway Bridge), we found the stunning Lungarnos of Pisa. These are the picturesque streets that border the Arno River. This area, lined with beautiful pastel buildings, once inspired the works of famous poets like Lord Byron.
It was an easy to envision creative juices flowing with leisurely strollers among the dreamy reflection of row houses in the water.
Soon, we were back on the train heading to our next destination. As with every place we visited, we left different than when we had arrived. Our world had opened up a little bit more. It may seem insignificant – seeing a tourist site like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But for me, it was a magical building from my childhood. Something I’d always wondered about and now, I got a sense of what it was all about.
It’s that visceral experience that makes traveling so amazing. Interacting with people, places and things that, up until that point, have only existed in our imagination. It doesn’t really seem real until you experience it with your very own eyes.