The Leaning Tower is, of course, Pisa’s main attraction. Even before three
of its eight stories were constructed (building began in 1173 and continued
until 1350), it had begun to lean. In 1990, the instability of the tower made
it necessary to close it to visitors. Fortunately, an extensive program to rebalance
the tower was successful in slowly righting the structure to its original degree
of “lean.” Now, thanks to modern engineering, the tower and its 294 stairs are
once again open for climbing.
The tower is on the Campo dei Miracoli, a large, grassy square that’s a pleasant
place to relax. While you’re there, visit the Baptistry, which contains a beautiful
baptismal font and pulpit by Nicola Pisano; the Romanesque Cathedral di San
Zeno, with its silver altar and figures by Brunelleschi; and the Camposanto
Cemetery. All in white, the medieval buildings and the wall of the cemetery
form a beautiful thematic whole. Stop at the 16th-century church and Palazzo
dei Cavalieri, the piazza and the National Museum of San Matteo (excellent collection
of 12th- through 15th-century art). And if you have time, visit Pisa’s other
leaning tower at the Church of San Michele degli Scalzi: Completed in the 13th
century, this seldom-visited tower is worth a look, too.
It’s also fun just to walk around Pisa. The city is very compact, with many
narrow streets and a great ambience. We suggest seeing it on a day trip from
Florence, perhaps in combination with Lucca, just 13 mi/20 km northeast. Another
possible stop is Pistoia, which has a cathedral and baptistery in the Pisan-Romanesque
style and the Ceppo Hospital (L’Ospedale de Ceppo), which has a brightly painted
and enameled terra-cotta frieze by Giovanni della Robbia. If you want to see
Pisa and another town all in one day, get up very early.