It’s hard to believe that this town of 100,000 was a European economic powerhouse for nearly 300 years (1000-1300 AD). At one time Pisa controlled Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily, and traded extensively with regions as far away as North Africa and Syria. But now, of course, Pisa is more famous for its leaning tower.
It’s funny how our memories often collide with the reality of the present. For one, when Jay last visited the leaning tower, over 25 years ago, he somehow remembered that the grassy lawn area surrounding the tower, the “Field of Miracles”, was a lot bigger than it really is. The lawn is still there. It hasn’t changed. But maybe it’s because there are so many more visitors there today than on his last visit that the field just seems smaller.
But the tower is as amazing as ever and we can still imagine Galileo dropping things from it as he experimented with the effects of gravity. Of course, if he did that today he would probably bop some unsuspecting tourist on the head or at least smash their selfie-stick. Actually, destroying the selfie-stick might not be all that bad of an idea. The cathedral adjacent to the tower is still as magnificent as ever. It was the swinging of the bronze incense burner, suspended from the cathedral’s ceiling, that helped Galileo discover the earth’s rotation.
On Jay’s last visit, he completely ignored the town of Pisa itself. But this time we took the time to savor the place, stop for a pleasant lunch and soak in our surroundings. About 45,000 university students are in Pisa and there seems to have a lively multi-cultural mix that is a nice counterpoint to the chaos of visitors thronging to see the tower. We’re definitely leaning toward our next visit and spending even more time in Pisa itself.