John Kirk was determined to enjoy top travel experiences in Italy – but could his legs carry him up all those stairs?…
“I found Intrepid’s Best of Italy trip through the north of the country to be absolutely inspiring – literally. Every city we visited had church spires and towers punctuating the skyline, offering great views of towns and nearby countryside. For me Italy provided a challenge – to climb hundreds of steep steps up narrow spiral passages to see and photograph spectacular views from the tops of the towers.
Some places had many towers. I was told that powerful families liked to build them as a sign of their wealth and influence – as well as to keep an eye on their neighbours and potential enemies. Some of the structures were used to defend the towns, although I couldn’t imagine how armour-clad warriors managed to race up the narrow spiral stairs carrying weapons. For one thing, they’d be giddy by the time they got to the top!
In its heyday, the enchanting walled town of Lucca (pictured) had an estimated 170 towers and spires. Today, it has only a dozen still standing and visitors are permitted to climb only two: the medieval Torre dell’Ore (or Torre Ora) with its famous clock; and the Torre Guinigi with the ancient oak trees growing on top.
The 130ft (40m) Torre Guinigi was built in 15th century by one of Lucca’s most important families. The climb up the 230 steps is rewarded with spectacular views and a rest under the shade of the famous oak trees.
Beautiful Florence has the famous Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral with two climbs: 463 steps to the top of the Dome or an easier 414 steps up the Giotto Campanile (the bell tower). Both climbs provide breathtaking views over Florence, however the Dome climb takes you past the spectacular ceiling painting of “The Last Judgement”.
A visit to Milan would not be complete without climbing the 201 steps to the roof of the magnificent Duomo with its Gothic spires and sculptures … and superb views of Milan and the distant Alps. The first section of stairs is steep and confined, but the walk along the roof is well worth the effort. There is an elevator (lift) at extra cost for the physically-challenged.
Without a doubt, the most challenging tower climb was the climb up 296 steps of the most famous tower in Italy (and probably the world) – the 56m tall Leaning Tower of Pisa.
When construction began in 1173 the intention was for a vertical tower. However, it wasn’t long after construction that the tower started to lean due to a poorly-laid foundation and poor soil. Today the tower leans at an angle of roughly 4 degrees resulting in the top of the tower protruding about 4 metres over the base on the southern side.
I got a weird feeling when I entered the tower and encountered the slope on the very first steps! As I climbed around and up, the lean confused my senses and played with my balance. Out on top, it was a bit scary on the sloping marble surface, but the view was incredible. Back inside on the narrow stairs, the people “traffic” jams were a bit claustrophobic. Still, it’s the most famous tower and it had to be climbed.
At our trip’s end in Venice, I ignored the rebuilt Campanile di San Marco (Belltower of St. Mark’s) with its elevator, preferring instead to climb the stairs inside the Church to look at the famous mosaics. Somehow catching a lift to capture the views didn’t have the same appeal!
Be InSPIREd – go tower-climbing in Italy!”
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