Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tower of Pisa--Leaning Toward Fame (part two)

A modern-day soil extraction technique has finally brought a measure of stability to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Closed for a decade for safety reasons, the tower reopened to the public in December 2001 after a massive three-year project to remove soil from beneath its 800-year-old foundation. Reducing the incline by 10 percent seems enough to stabilize the Tower for an estimated 200-300 years.
The structure is quite massive, which makes its curved shape all the more awesome. The height of the Tower from its foundation floor is 191 feet 47 inches. The outer diameter of the base measures 50 feet 9.6 inches. After another 77 tons of earth was removed in May 2008, the Tower stopped moving for the first time in its history.

Trekking to the top of the Tower requires careful footing as the steps are worn and slick, the result of centuries of climbers traversing the narrow passages. History comes alive when you stop near the top to admire the bell chamber. Added in 1372, it houses seven bells (the original reason for building the tower), all with different sounds on the musical scale.

Notice uneven arches on Cathedral wall.
Continue climbing for great views of Pisa and the square called Field of Miracles (Piazza dei Miracoli). Take time to tour the Cathedral (uneven arches indicate that it’s off-kilter, too), the Baptistery, and the cemetery called Campo Santo. All are beautiful and worth visiting for their historical, religious, and architectural significance.

City view from top of tower
We found Pisa to be a charming and authentic city. It was an important port during the Roman Empire, the capital of a powerful shipping and trade center. Galileo purportedly conducted his famous gravity experiments by dropping articles from the Tower, and the puppet Pinocchio, son of a poor Tuscan carpenter, is a revered symbol of the region that pops up in all the souvenir shops.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tower of Pisa--Leaning Toward Fame (part one)

Walking down the narrow stairwell
I’ve walked up and down 294 uneven stone steps of the narrow circular stairway inside the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Knowing that the tower is inclined 14 feet to one side, I’m amazed that the structure can withstand visitors tromping up its innards and roaming around the belfry. Even at the top—183 feet from ground level on the lower south side and 186 feet on the north side--I don’t notice a tilt. The fact that it feels erect from the inside makes the view from the bottom, outside, more awe inspiring.
The Tower, after all, is a monumental failure of architecture; it not only leans but actually curves. Ironically, the soft, unstable soil that began to sink early in construction turned out to be a solid foundation for future tourism. The rather ordinary town of Pisa, Italy, became famous because of a construction blunder--the architect didn’t know the land was once part of a river delta, making it unsuitable for large, heavy buildings.

Architects determined early on that the slippery stones I’ve stepped on were a factor in the Tower’s tilt, which became evident shortly after construction began in 1173. Work on the Tower stopped, and it was left unfinished for a century. When building continued in 1272, heavy counter weights were added to the north side, which caused the Tower to lean in the other direction—and contributed to its curved shape. When construction resumed in 1360, six steps were added to the south side and only four to the north side to accommodate the tilt.

After massive engineering feats in the late 1990s, the tilt has been reduced to four degrees from vertical and the Tower stabilized, allowing tourists the opportunity to feel immersed in the history represented by this monument.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Road trip to East Coast: First Stop in Mississippi

I look forward to our annual road trip, a chance to drive through parts of America that we usually see only from the window of an airplane. Recently we headed from Austin to the mid-Atlantic coast with stops along the way at beautiful Southern gardens and a handful of golf courses (read more in future posts). Torrential rains from a tropical depression made driving through Houston more challenging than normal, but by the time we reached Beaumont, the rains had subsided. When we crossed the Louisiana border, it was lunch time, so we picnicked at the state welcome center, a lovely spot on a lake that probably flows into the Sabine River at some point.

We stopped for the night in a hotel just off Interstate 10 near Biloxi. Following the advice of the check-in lady, we headed to Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant in adjacent Ocean Springs for dinner. A crock of creamy coleslaw was quickly set on the table, with the promise of homemade biscuits—as soon as they were out of the oven. Larry and I shared the large catfish and shrimp dinner, which was plenty for both of us.

Still daylight, so we drove a short distance to Front Beach, a spot totally decimated by Hurricane Katrina five years ago. A wide paved path follows the beach for several miles, making a perfect place to walk without getting sand in your shoes. We parked near the Ocean Springs Yacht Club at the north end and walked to the Chester McPhearson, Jr. Pier, a recent addition to the beach scene. It proved to be an excellent place to watch the setting sun, a huge red-yellow ball gleaming in the cloudless sky. A local jogger told us that the land was leveled during Katrina, and the lovely ocean front homes we saw perched on hills are the result of new dirt brought in to build up the area. Seems to me that homeowners are still risking destruction from future storms.

After our walk we drove toward the south end of Front Beach to Harbor Landing Yacht Club and then headed back to our hotel on Washington Avenue, the main street, past the Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center which housed in a converted train depot. Overall, we found Ocean Springs a pleasant place to enjoy the Gulf of Mexico, and so far the shores are free of tar.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ephesus, Turkey brings historical and Biblical sites into view

If you've ever imagined yourself walking on paths of Biblical characters, paths you've traveled only in your imagination , paths that evoke a strong sense of history--then you'll want to read my article about Ephesus in Turkey.  It's an amazing place.
Ephesus, Turkey brings historical and Biblical sites into view