Location: Pisa, Italy
Visited: August 8, 2012
Opinion and Background:
I am always hesitant to write an article about Italy, as it has probably been done to death. Even the Lonely Planet doesn’t want to hear it anymore! I recently wrote one on the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily because I felt it was one of the least known WHS, and definitely one of the most amazing ones in the world. How often do you see Greek ruins older than Acropolis? Nonetheless, the Piazza del Duomo, Pisa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site I have visited, so I am doing it an evaluation anyways, dammit!
While planning my Italy itinerary, I had the good fortune of knowing a friend who had recently visited, and for the first time in my life, I took her advice when she insisted that I skip staying the night. The area is walled off from the rest of the city, which actually looked much prettier than I expected, but she was right in pointing out that the tower and plaza were the main attraction.
I had the fortune of getting off on the wrong stop my first time there (on “Pisa S. Rissore,” instead of the one every other tourist got off on, “Pisa Centrale”) which forced me to go through the less traveled route to the Piazza Del Duomo, Pisa. It was a blessing in disguise as I was able to see the two approaches into the plaza.
So, does the architecture live up to the hype? The entire piazza is fantastic, I must admit, a true engineering marvel. However, its real allure comes from the fact that the tower is leaning. Back in the 1980s, engineers realized that it was leaning so much, it would someday (in the near future) collapse if something wasn’t done. It was slightly corrected from 1990-2001, which begs the question, why didn’t they just fix it all the way? It keeps the tourists coming as was admitted by the Italian government. I realize it was a monumental feature to correct it as much as it was, but I can’t help but feel like the tower ‘leans’ more on its gimmick than what its UNESCO inscription suggests (I couldn’t help but throw in a pun). While there were countless people doing the “I’m holding up the tower” pose, I can’t blame them as I too attempted the picture a million times before giving up. Hey, I traveled that far, it’s okay to do the ‘touristy stuff’ sometimes. Eventually, it FELL OVER! (jk)
Enough criticism, here is the good stuff: The columns of the tower are beautiful and more than you expect from ‘middle-age / dark age‘ architecture. Once you get inside, you realize that the tower is hollow, and can see straight up (or down from the top).
It was supposed to serve as the bell tower for the Cathedral of Pisa, another beautiful building next to it, but due to the constant delays in construction, and the obvious leaning, it never really fulfilled that mission. Unfortunately, it was built during one of the ‘darker times’ in Italian history, so getting stuff done wasn’t exactly a priority, with the black plague and all (okay, enough with the puns).
1) Completeness and Originality (15/15): As far as I know, everything is from the 11th-14th century, never being destroyed or rebuilt. For something almost a millennium old, it looks like it was built yesterday.
2) Extensiveness of the Site (5/15): The area is tiny. While yes, most people make it an entire day trip, the reality is that you spend most of your time waiting in line to buy your tickets (or redeem them, even if you bought them ahead of time), waiting in line to climb the tower, waiting in line to enter the cathedral, or shopping and eating in the area…because you got tired of waiting in line for something.
3) Cultural Significance (3/25): It is a nice design and pretty impressive for the era. However, it didn’t influence the outside world then, and wouldn’t influence it now it it wasn’t leaning. It also isn’t the only leaning structure on the world, just the most famous one. In retrospect, I would not have been heart broken if I missed it.
4) Personal Impact (3/15): It was very pretty, but the view from the top of the tower isn’t as gorgeous as the view from the top of Santa Maria Del Fiore in nearby Florence. It is still definitely recommended to climb the tower.
5) Logistics (3/10): Kudos for how easy it is to visit. I went twice, once from Florence and once from Milan. Both Pisa stations leave you within about a kilometer of the Piazza, with relatively cheap food on the way. The shopping here for knick knacks and souvenirs is pretty cheap and easy to haggle. The price to climb the tower however, is obscene. It costs 18 Euros (official site) to climb the tower, all of which takes about 30 minute wait time for purchase (even with pre-order), an hour (or more) wait time to climb, and just 50 minutes up and down. In perspective, it is cheaper to get a 1 week pass for the massive Angkor complex (the entire city, not just Angkor Wat). Don’t compare apples to oranges? Fine, it is cheaper to visit the Colosseum of Rome. There are also additional costs to visit any of the other 4 things in the area, including the cathedral (another 5 euro I believe).
6) Uniqueness (8/20): While a beautiful church and tower, it pales in comparison to the churches in Milan, Florence, or Rome. And that is just in Italy alone. The leaning aspect of it is pretty cool though.
Combined Score: 37/100
Is this a good score? Find out how it compares in our rankings.
[Given that this is the lowest scoring I have ever given a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I think it is a good time to re-iterate the scoring system. The scoring and criticisms are to balance the already awesome perceptions you have of these sites. They are UNESCO World Heritage Sites for a good reason, and I have yet to visit a site that I thought was voted on while the UNESCO people were under the influence. Furthermore, a low score doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit a site, as the scores are UNESCO sites pinned against each other, not an overall score. Check out the current rankings for more details.]