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The tower of Pisa
The tower of Pisa
The town of Pisa
The town of Pisa


Thursday, June 6, 2002
Ben takes a walk up the almost no longer leaning Tower of Pisa — just bella!

Pisa is a university town with around 100,000 residents and was the birthplace in 1564 of Galileo Galilei — astronomer, physicist, mathematician, scientist, philosopher, painter, lute player, all-round genius and climber of the Tower of Pisa's 294 steps to put his gravity theories to the test.

Right in the Tuscan region, Pisa has had a volatile and interesting history. In the Middle Ages, before the River Arno was clogged and it flowed to the Tyrrhenian Sea, the port city became very wealthy. Its skilled sailors conquered many lands including Jerusalem, Carthago, Ibiza, Mallorca, Africa, Belgium, Britannia, Norway, Spain and Morocco. Ironically, their greatest enemy was Florence, and the two had many fierce wars.

The tower was built to show the rest of the world, particularly Florence, their wealth, but was built on very soft alluvial soil which accounts for its instability.

Construction began in 1173, but by the time the first three levels had been built, the building had started to lean southwards. Architects tried to compensate, with no success. Time and money spent on battles with Florence meant the tower was forgotten for a while, and historians believe it wasn't completed until 1350.

The tower's lean gradually became greater, and in 1990, when it tilted 5.5º, it was closed. Engineers from around the world put in submissions to right the construction, and in June 1999 the tower leaned 3cm less than at the beginning of the year. That was considered a giant leap, as it was perilously close to toppling.

The team led by John Burland, a professor of soil mechanics at London's Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, tied one side of the tower with steel cables to anchor it, put huge corkscrew drills into the ground and pulled out all the dirt, and by using lead weight, the tower swung back to upright.

Campo dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles, is one of the world's most beautiful squares and apart from the famous tower, it has three other important buildings, the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the cemetery. All are great examples of supreme craftsmanship and attract many visitors.

The Cathedral, begun in 1064, was a model for the superb Romanesque churches of Tuscany and Sardinia. Its interior and exterior are covered with characteristic alternating bands of dark green and cream marble. Its main façade has four tiers of columns and bronze doors facing the tower, which was designed by the architect as the campanile, or bell tower.

The Cathedral’s enormous interior is lined with 68 classical-style columns, reminiscent of many Middle Eastern mosques. Not surprising, as a lot of Arab artisans worked on the project. It has five aisles and houses important works of art such as Giovanni Pisano's 14th century pulpit and Arrigo VIIs tomb.

The Baptistery is an unusual round building, dedicated to the sacrament of baptism. Its girth measures 107m and it reaches 55m in height. It was started in 1153 and more than a century later was remodelled and continued by father and son Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. Work wasn't completed until the 14th century, explaining the variations in architecture. The lower level is in the Pisan-Romanesque style and the pinnacled upper section and dome are a Gothic add-on. The acoustics are quite remarkable. An un-amplified choir singing can be heard two kilometres away.

The magnificent pulpit is a fine example of the Pisanos' craft and the white marble font dating back to 1246 is beauty to behold.

The central font is enriched with eight faces decorated with rose windows and geometrical marble decoration.

The Camposanto, or cloistered cemetery, is covered with earth taken there from Calvary by the Crusaders. It holds Roman sarcophagi which inspired Nicola Pisano's pulpit in the Baptistery. Among the precious frescoes which avoided WWII bombs are the Triumph of Death and Last Judgement, attributed to an anonymous 14th century painter known just as The Master of the Triumph of Death. Fragments of shattered frescoes line the galleries.


Pisa is three-and-a-half hours north of Rome in Italy.


Qantas flies to Rome 3 times a week. Return economy fares start at $2099 per person from the east coast, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin for travle between September 30 and November 14, 2002. Charges, taxes and levies are extra. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.
Leaning Tower of Pisa entry is around $25 per person.
Tickets to Duomo, Baptistery, Camposanto, Museo delle Sinopie and Museo del Duome, or combinations thereof, are available.
Opening times vary with the seasons and mass times.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

Italian Government Tourist Office
Ph: (02) 9262 1666
Fax: (02) 9262 1677

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