The New York Times, June 12, 1898, p.13:|
THE MONUMENTS OF PISA.The Many Wonders of the Famous Old Leaning Tower.
THE NOTED LAMP OF GALILEO.
Custodians Who Chant the Praises of Rival Attractions and
Increase Their Earnings by Enlarging Their Stock of Vile English.
PISA, May 7.--It is a relief to see flat land again after a surfeit of hills. For months along the Mediterranean we have had nothing but hills and mountains. Whether in Marseilles, in Nice, Monaco, Vintimille, or Genoa, you are no sooner down one hill than you begin to climb the next; and the outlying mountains are not beautifully green like ours, but bare, cream-colored rock. I think I have not seen a smooth, level field before since the day last fall when I went out to Velaux, in Provence, to see oil pressed out of olives. But here we have the luxury of perfectly level ground. There is not as much as an undulation in the whole of Pisa, as far as I have seen.
The Arno seems to have some doubt about which way to run. In the days when Pisa was a seaport there was another river here, the Serchio. The two united and flowed into the sea by the same channel. But the Serchio changed its course a few centuries ago, and is no longer visible.
Instead of taking us directly to the leaning tower, as we told him, the driver managed to circuit about the town a little first, fearful perhaps that the four monuments might be too great a shock if taken suddenly. We went down the Lung'arno, on the river bank, for a block or two, with cream-colored stone houses on the left and the river wall on the right, and a crowd of people in the street, it being the fashionable hour for Pisa to air itself and stare at such strangers as arrive.
There were some English and Americans among the people, easily distinguished by their dress and their red-covered guide books. I have contracted the guide-book habit myself in Italy, some aid in a country where I know nothing of the language.
The Palazzo Toscanelli.
I have ventured before to say that a traveler with no special knowledge of art can, in going through the galleries, pick out all the famous pictures without the aid of a guide. And the same is true to a still greater extent of the buildings. In going down the Lung'arno there was in one of the blocks only one building that we could see, and that a very plain three-story dwelling house; a double house, as we call it, meaning that the door is in the centre, with windows on each side. It was broad and roomy and comfortable, with very little attempt at show, but with something about it that made it stand out prominently in spite of itself.
The stone framework that surrounded the massive door was solid and graceful, with exactly enough ornamentation, and not a line too much, and the same was true of every one of the broad windows, of which there were two on each side of the door, and five in each of the upper stories. It was not as large as some of the other buildings in the block, and not nearly as showy; but it was so beautifully proportioned, so quiet and self-satisfied, that it instantly commanded attention.
"What a beautiful house," somebody said.
Cabby reined in his horse and turned his head.
"That is the Palazzo Toscanelli," said he, "in which Lord Byron lived for some time."
This sudden unearthing of a palace warranted a reference to the guide book, and there we saw that the rare old house came by its beauty honestly, for it was designed by Michael Angelo. Any American who contemplates a town hose of fifty or sixty feet frontage will do himself a favor by studying the artistic lines of the Palazzo Toscanelli in this town.
The city must always have lain chiefly along the river banks; but the buildings of the Lung'arno are more modern than those further back, so they probably stand on the older ones that have been removed. The Lung'arno does not look more than a hundred or a hundred and fifty years old; but go back two blocks and you step instantly into the Middle Ages. Solid dark houses in rough and narrow streets, everything so sombre that it would make you shiver if it were not for the great names connected with some of the old buildings.
The Four Monuments.
About three blocks back from the river we came suddenly upon a great open space, green with grass, much like the open plain in front of the railway station, except that in the middle of this vast field stand the "four monuments" of Pisa--the Leaning Tower, the Cathedral, the Baptistry, and the Cemetary. Great are the Pisans yet for their good sense in keeping the usual assortment of cafés, shops, and tourist hotels well back from this wonderful collection of buildings, leaving them to stand alone where they can be seen and admired. The four do not even encroach upon one another, but stand wide apart, with broad stretches of smooth, clean grass between. I suspect that this big piece of land belongs to the Church, and that the priests rather than the Pisans in general must have the credit for keeping it open. There are no fences in the way; you can walk right up to any of the buildings and rub your hand against it to make sure that it is really there.
Those things you read about in your early days, particularly in school, must always be the favored sights to see abroad. The Leaning Tower has always been a hazy thing, made partially real by a regiment of pictures. Here it is in real stone; I touch it and it feels gritty; and to-morrow it will be a dream.
The Leaning Tower is not one ot the sights to disappoint a traveler. It is larger than we are led to believe, higher, leans more, and is clean and in good repair. It would be worth seeing even it it stood up straight.
So far from being denied admission, we were hardly out of the carriage before the guardian emerged and made propositions in what he no doubt considered to be the English language.
"You veesh to ascend ze towaire? Eet ees ze ouairre past, but I veel conduct your party to ze belfry for von franc."
That is a weak effort at imitating the Italian peasant's ventures in English, sounding more like a bewildered Frenchman; but it will perhaps give some idea of the man's use of our language. These fellows increase their earnings with a little knowledge of English; and what terrible struggles they must have!
The offer was promptly declined on the ground that the beauty of a tower is in its exterior, not within; and if that was not good argument it was at least a sufficient excuse for refusing to climb eight sets of stairs that slant uncomfortably. It did not, of course, interfere with the guardian's collection of his fee, for why should these millionaires escape unbled? He showed us everything that we would look at down stairs, and after receiving his franc begged for a little more...
The Tower and Its Area.
The Tower stands in a broad well about eight feet deep; or in other words is surrounded by what we call in New York an area. The diameter of the structure being fifty feet, they first dug a hole eight feet deep and about seventy feet in diameter, and walled it up, and laid the foundation of the Tower in the middle of that hole, thus leaving an open space of ten feet all around it.
The Tower is composed of eight stories, as you have doubtless read a thousand times, and each story is surrounded by a separate set of handsome columns connected by semicircular arches, so that what you see mostly of the Tower is eight stories of graceful columns. In the basement story the arches are built up solid, but all the others are open.
The slant of the Tower is toward the town; and when you stand on that side of the area wall, the top of the Tower projects over your head, and it is impossible to avoid the feeling that after its seven hundred years of stability it might suddenly change its mind and fall just at the wrong moment. If you stood three feet further out than the area wall the summit would still be over your head, for it is thirteen feet out of the perpendicular.
As it is 178 feet high, the average height of the eight stories must be about 22 feet, but they do not look more than eight or ten. It is quite useless, as you look up, to try to reason yourself out of the feeling that the Tower might fall. You know it will not fall, but still you feel more comfortable around on the other side.
Standing there on the edge of the outer wall, and looking down into the area, the wonder is not what makes the Tower slant, but that there could possibly be any doubt or discussion about it. No musty roll of parchment is needed to tell you the history of this remarkable slant; the tower tells its own story. Look down and you see that below the basement arches is a foundation of stone, tier upon tier, standing straight before your eyes on three sides, but not on the fourth, because on the fourth side the foundation has sunk into the ground, leaving the arches to rise directly from the earth. That is substantial proof that the structure was designed to be straight, but on one side settled into the ground.
Bound Together with Rods.
But that is not nearly the whole of the Tower's story. It tells in its own record of stone that it was about half built when it sunk on one side. When four of the stories were completed the slant was so great that the builders were afraid of it, and the courses of stone already laid they bound together with iron rods, to prevent slipping. Then for the next two or three stories they made the pillars so much longer on the sunken side than on the other that the difference in length can be seen plainly from the ground. This was of course partially to strengthen the Tower and restore its equilibrium--to keep the centre of gravity within the base, as the mathematicians say.
It was in 1174 that the work was begun, but there were no lightning contractors or steam paddys in those days. The eighth story was not finished until 1350, so the tower was nearly two centuries in building. By an easy calculation I find that the cost of it would have built and stocked six big factories in this town...
They might have put the bells on top of the Cathedral or the Baptistry and saved their money, but they thought differently, and it was their own affair. But look at their wonderful perseverance. With the building begun in 1174 and finished in 1350, they were looking forward, successive generations of them, to the day when the bells should ring, and the bells were cast about 1260, or when the work was a century old and a century from being finished. There are seven of them, the largest one alone weighing six tons.
We think of Troy, usually, as the birthplace of church bells. But here was Pisa, a thousand years before Hendrick Hudson sailed up his namesake river, reknowned all over the inhabited world for its manufacture of big bells. Yes, nearly two thousand years before, for Pisa was a city long before the foundation of the original Troy, 1,600 years before Christ. Pisa was nearly two thousand years old when the Saviour was on earth, and if I may judge from appearances, I think some of the original buildings are still standing.
Rivalry in Monuments.
With all the iron bars and lengthened columns, the builders were cautious about putting the heavy bells on top of the Leaning Tower. The big six-tonner they put on the high side, trusting only the lightweights on the lower side. The fourth bell, which for some centuries was tolled whenever a criminal was led out for execution, is named the Pasquareccia. The others all have names, but I do not know them.
The custodian of the Cathedral came over while we were looking at the Tower, for fear we might wander away before he had secured the proper token of appreciation from us. He, too, spoke a few words of English, and he assured us as well as he could that the Leaning Tower was nothing whatevaire, compared with the great "monument" that he had charge of.
"Oh, ze m'sieu must see ze great tableaus." (The old imposter had somewhere learned the French word tableau, meaning picture, and evidently mistook it for English.) "Ze greatest tableaus in the world, m'sieu."
Accepting his assurance that ze greatest tableaus in the world could all be seen for 1 franc... we followed him across the grass to the Chathedral, which is quite as much of a mechanical wonder as the tower, for I do not believe there is a straight line in the whole thing from one end to the other. One needs at least a half hour of training under the Leaning Tower before he can go into the cathedral with any comfort. The walls bulge, the façade overhangs the steps, and the whole building looks as if it might collapse at any moment.
It is built of white and colored marbles, and must have been one of the architectural beauties of the world when it was in its prime. They had a great fire in it the other day (that is to say, in 1596,) which destroyed the dome and part of the roof, and damaged a lot of the furniture. Such at least is the guardian's story. I should not have believed that a few plumbers at work on a stone roof could set fire to it and burn it, if the same fire had not burned up the big bronze doors...
The first thing inside that the guardian showed us was the big lamp hanging from the ceiling of the nave--or rather, the first thing he tried to show us; for the shades of night were falling and there was not enough light inside to see anything distinctly. A few lamps were burning, to be sure, but in that great building we could hardly have found them without groping about with a lantern. The particular lamp that he most wanted us to see showed no lights whatever, and as it hangs at a dizzy height in midair, lighting it must be difficult work.
He began telling us about this great Man of Galilee, as I thought, and jumbled himself up in such a tangle of Italian, French and English that I gave him up in despair. But suddenly it dawned upon me that the word he was struggling with was Galileo, not Galilee. And that explained his story.
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