Friday, April 29, 2011

Hoboventure: Piece of Pisa

This will be a long, so I'll sum it up here for those who don't like our long posts (Kayla and Emily)

I went to Pisa, climbed to the top of the leaning tower, it was amazing. I then went in some other buildings that were baby jebus related. Ate pizza for lunch and left. Also I was named mayor and the tower is my new home, it is dubbed Torre Pendente de Matticus.

The full post follows:

I'll be honest, seeing the leaning tower has been on my mind for as long as I can remember. It's sort of become a symbol for Italy for me, similar to the Eiffle Tower is a symbol for France. As I've grown older and gone through engineering school, it's taken on a new meaning. A marvelous engineering failure that is an engineering feat. I had to see it.

The ride in the night before was amazing, even after (roughly) 100km I still had the energy to be giddy and pester Liz with calls, "hey look over there!", "look up! it's right there!" and "no, not there, in front of you!". Riding along the city walls and catching glimpses of the top of the tower was exciting, I was here, and by bicycle! It was the first time I really felt we had accomplished something.

I slept restlessly during the night, and was eager to get going in the morning, Liz got annoyed at me for trying to rush her along...I guess I do that a bit.

We left camp before 10, no real idea how to get in to see the tower, but we found our way quickly enough. First we had to direct some motorcyclists to the tower. Down through the tunnel, a right turn and there was a break in the city walls. We followed an old lady on a bicycle through stop and go traffic, using her as a shield. We darted through the street hawkers and entered through the opening in the wall. Not expecting what followed, I was shocked. It was a perfect spring day; the sky was blue, the sun was shining, a warm 23ish, only small clouds dotting the sky and in the midst of all that, a vast open space with vibrant green turf and 3 white buildings. A baptistry, a church, and the tower.

The whiteness of the buildings makes the colours of everything around it pop (sadly my photography skills aren't up to snuff). The grass may be the richest of greens that I've ever seen, the sky the most perfect shade of blue. It took me a few moments to understand what I was seeing. What brought me back to reality was the tourists. The square surrounding was packed full of them, buying things from the souvenir shops, taking silly photo's (if any of you tourists read this, those photos you took of you "holding up" the tower are just bad, the scale is all wrong!), relaxing on the grass. They were everywhere.

Fearing for a huge line, I sent (ha!) Liz to find the ticket booth, and I manned the camera and started shooting. This was a challenge, but eventually I got a few nice ones without the hordes of tourists in them. Shortly after, Liz returned, tickets in hand. I thought it would be nice to get a photo of the 2 of us. We asked a passing couple; he said yes, she slapped him for it and dragged him on. Really 2 seconds of your time, thanks for nothing...

Being "early" and having yet had a coffee, we found a place to sit in the sun at a "quiet" cafe across from the leaning tower and enjoyed the view (of men removing scaffolding from it) with usual coffee, cappuccino, and croissants.

The tickets you purchase for the leaning tower are reservation based and indicate a time that you'll be let in. Only a small amount of people (2 groups, 1 going up and 1 coming down) are allowed to be in the tower at once (also, the greatest rule ever: Nobody under 18 Unsupervised and no one under 8 at all!). Our time was approaching so we waited in the small que and took advantage of the scenery with the camera.

After waiting for about 20 minutes a lady in line informed us that bags are not allowed in the tower (Liz already knew this, but the tickets said you could store them in lockers close to the line) and then pointed out the locker room a couple hundred meters away. With time running short, we dashed to the locker place and back. Just in time too, we were dead last into the tower.

The leaning tower is a bell tower detached from it's church. Construction started in 1173 and took 177 years to complete! Only five years in, with the third level started, construction had to be halted. The building had already begun to lean. The tower was left as it was for about 100 years. This let the building settle and the soil to stabilize. If this hadn't happened, the tower would have collapsed.

I think this is the best part, In 1272, to adjust for the lean they built one side taller than the other on the new floors!

Currently, as a result of a massive engineering project (the tower in the 90's was past the projected topple angle at 5.5 degrees), the tower leans just over 4 degrees (over 4m from vertical, for a tower of 60m that's incredible!), to put this in perspective 4 degrees is roughly where the tower was 300 years ago. When it was completed in 1319, it was roughly 1 degree or 2.5 feet of lean.

I hope I've given you a little insight into why I love this building as much as I do, to read more check out the wikipedia page.

Ok, I get it, enough history. Up up we go, the stairs spiral around the outer side of the central core, and lean with the tower.  It is an awkward climb, the stairs are heavily grooved from the foot traffic of nearly a thousand years, and you have to lean at weird angles as you move around the circumference of the core. Sometimes it pitches you forward, helping you up the stairs. Sometimes it's an even worse uphill battle.

Eventually you come to an opening and the tower guards force you out onto one of the 7 tiers (this is to let the group coming down to pass). We snapped a few pictures and marveled at the lean and view of the old city centre. Shortly after we were rushed off the platform and up to the bell tower level (I think it's the 6th level). We walked around, snapped a few more photos and Liz tried to translate the inscriptions on the bells.

Having circled the bell level, we were funneled to the top, at this point you leave the large staircase and cram into a tiny little staircase barely shoulder wide, with the most rutted steps in the tower. It was slow going with 30 or so people trying to get up and down at the same time. A few minutes passed and we were on the top.  Wow, what a view, you can see for miles, (we were able to see huge cranes we'd later cycle past hours later on the coast). The cathedral looks amazing from above, the detail in the stonework on the roof is amazing.

The lean is very evident from up here, we snapped more photos and cornered an American couple to take a photo of us on the top. No time to savour the moment. Meer seconds later we were herded down and out.

At the foot of the tower is an inscription that Liz stopped to take photos of... [edit: Because it was describing the work of Galileo in Pisa. Legend is all about the cannonball versus the feather being dropped from the Leaning Tower. Reality is probably less exciting).

After the tower we took a look in the Campo Santo. It is a walled cemetery, it is remarkably beautiful. Another grand white building, it has an open courtyard that is green and lush. The construction started sometime in 1278 (it's architect died in 1284) and was completed in 1464. At one point the building contained a large collection of Roman sculptures and the walls were covered in fresco paintings (of the usual bible stuff). But during the war, the Allies bombed it. The roof caught fire and covered everything in molten lead, destroying almost everything.

What we see now is a result of restoration work that has been ongoing from 1945.  Apparently the building is mostly restored to original, but the scars of war can still be seen everywhere.  Only bits of the frescos survive.  It's a sad place, but then again, its a cemetery and I suppose it's supposed to be.

Our next stop was the Duomo, a medieval cathedral named Santa Maria Assunta. The building dates to 1064 and is Romanesque in style, simple compared to the gothic churches we've become accustomed too. However, simple doesn't mean the building isn't another example of grand excess the church likes to display. The exterior appears from afar to be completely constructed of white stone. Get closer and you'll find it is composed mostly of grey marble and a white stone. Closer still and the bits of coloured marble that are inlaid will stand out. The main doors are massive and made of bronze, as are the other doors. Some of these are replacements for original wood doors that were destroyed in a fire. Atop the building sits a massive dome, covered in copper or something similar, bleached to a grey-white colour by the sun. The inside is your typical church affair, white and black marble, granite columns, massive mosaics from the early 1300's, frescoed dome, intricately carved and polished wood and massive organ, oh I forgot the gold trimming.

It is much more grand when seen from above, the shape, decadence and scale are seen best from the top of the tower.

Feeling a bit rushed now, we had left our things at the campsite and were allowed to do so until 2pm. We headed into the baptistry. The baptistery dates to 1153, and is styled similarly to the cathedral, it seems the same stone was used for it's construction. The interior is 2 floors and extremely plain, the dome and walls remain undecorated.  It is however a massive building and seeing the steps we headed up to the second level for a better look. As soon as we reached the floor, a gaggle of loud giggling teens entered the building, followed by a chorus of "Shhhhhh!" from the guards. As the giggling got louder we headed down and out.

Hungry we headed back towards where we parked the bikes and partook of pizza at a sidewalk cafe. Not the best we've had, but now fully nourished once again, we grabbed the bikes, headed back to camp, loaded up and headed on our way.

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