Italy – The famous Leaning Tower and venerable Cathedral

The distinctive feature of Pisa to the world at large does not lie in its historical greatness, nor in its former supremacy in the world of art, nor even in the grandeur and beauty of its cluster of marvelous buildings ; but in the fact that one of them, the marble tower at which you are looking, leans thirteen feet from the perpendicular. Even as we gaze upon it, it seems to be in the very act of falling; and this sensation would be intensified, in` fact, it would amount to a positive conviction, if you could do as I did, lie upon the ground beneath it and look up at the flying clouds and the apparently swaying tower, which, as it hung over me in the air, had every appearance of being about to fall upon me and crush me to the earth. The sensation that one experiences standing upon the top of the tower and looking down from the lower side is somewhat similar, only you feel that you are falling with the tower, and you instinctively grasp the railing in front of you in a desperate effort to save yourself.

The interior of the tower is hollow and one can look down into it as into a gigantic tube. The structure is one hundred and eighty feet high and is crowned by a belfry, which contains a string of seven bells, the heaviest of which weighs six tons and hangs on the side opposite the overhanging wall. There has been considerable controversy as to what is the cause of this strange phenomenon that has existed for five hundred and fifty years, having been built in 1350. Some maintain that it was built in this way as an architectural novelty, but the best ex-planation is that the ground has settled in the course of its construction and the upper stories were added in a curved line, the wall on the leaning side being strengthened to bear the greater strain. It is fortunate that the settling process stopped when it did, otherwise we should have lost this extraordinary building. As you see, it has eight stories and is en-circled by six exquisite colonnades, on the topmost of which is a gallery surrounded by an iron railing to prevent sight-seers from falling over in their nervousness and fear. By looking over the railing and into the arch of the belfry, you can see one of the bells. An upper gallery is seen on the top of the belfry, but the lower one will supply shivers enough if you are liable to be at all affected by the height and peculiar position of the building. The ascent is made by means of two hundred and ninety-four steps, and no one is permitted to ascend alone, as the tower used to be a favorite place for suicides, a leap from either of its galleries meaning instant death. If a visitor arrives at the tower alone, he must hire one of the natives to make the ascent with him. Beautiful as this structure certainly is, it yet impresses you as having something abnormal about it, and you turn away from it almost with a shudder, as one might from a fascinating yet appalling monstrosity.

To the right of the Campanile is the grand old Cathedral, one of the finest in the world. It was constructed after the great victory of the Pisans, near Palermo, in the middle of the eleventh century, and was consecrated in 1118. In the dim light of its vast and splendid interior, I looked upon the altar lamp, which is still hanging there, whose oscillations suggested to Galileo the idea of the pendulum. Our position gives us a rear view of the building, but from every point of observation it is a striking and imposing structure, being a basilica with rear and double aisles, and with a transept flanked with aisles. It is three hundred and twelve feet long and one hundred and seven feet in breadth, and, like the bell-tower, is constructed entirely of marble. Its fine elliptical dome surmounted by a small cupola, over which is a bronze ball and weather vane, gives a majestic and stately appearance to the whole. Just over the roof of the cathedral, near the left side of the dome, may be seen the statue surmounting the Baptistery, a building we are to see later.

Contemplating this company of Pisans whom we see here before us leads me to remark that to the tourist, meeting such local types of citizens as these people represent, the illustrious history of many an Italian city would seem fabulous were it not that just before his eyes, as with us here, there rises some substantial token of past achievements whose immortal glory is not yet dimmed to mortal eyes.

We have been looking toward the east. We shall go now beyond the Cathedral and the Baptistery hidden behind the Cathedral, and look back in this direction, that is, toward the west. Then we shall realize again that the glory of Pisan architecture is only seen in the trinity of its excellence.