With more than 5 million visitors each year, the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre Pendente) is one of the best- known landmarks in Italy. It served as a backdrop on so many tourist pictures. If you’re wondering what makes it so special keep reading — you’re minutes away from learning about this unusual tower.
A Miracle on Square of Miracles
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a bell tower or campanile located on Square of Miracles (Campo dei Miracoli or Piazza dei Miracoli) in the city of Pisa. This famous tower is only one of the four buildings that make the Cathedral complex in this square. The first one that was built was the impressive Romanesque cathedral — Duomo di Pisa. The building that was added to the complex was the baptistery, after which the work on the Tower began. Before the Tower was finished, the cemetery, Campo Santo, was also added to the complex.
Square of Miracle (Piazza dei Miracoli) of Pisa is the most amazing complex of Romanesque architecture in Italy, a gorgeous sight to see, and the Tower is its signature piece. This tower surely was a miracle at the time it was built, not just because of its signature lean, but because it was the tallest bell tower in Europe.
Square of Miracles
Centuries of Building the Tower
The construction works of the Leaning Tower of Pisa started at the end of the 12th century, and it was finally finished at the end of the 14th century. Yes, it took two centuries to build this tower. But have in mind that all the work was paused twice, for over a century in total, because of the military conflicts among Italian republics at the time.
The Tower of Pisa Got Famous Because of a Mistake
You always thought that you have to be perfect in order to accomplish your goals and be famous around the world, right? Well, this might not always be the case…
Without its signature lean, the Tower of Pisa would probably be just another tower in just another European city. But because of the poor planning that was done prior to building the Tower, it eventually started to lean. The architects working on this project made the foundations too shallow and didn’t take into calculation the softness of the ground which consists of sand, clay, and deposits from the Arno and Serchio rivers. It just couldn’t support the weight of the tower; after building its second floor, the builders noticed that it started to lean. However, this didn’t stop them from finishing this project which they never knew would get this famous.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Lean Switched Directions
As the construction workers kept going with adding the additional stories on the structure that already started to lean, they messed up its gravity center. So, instead of fixing the building’s posture, they caused the lean to switch its directions — it started to lean south instead of north, as it was originally the case.
The Tower of Pisa is Finally Standing Still… For Now
As the years (and centuries) passed by, the ground beneath the tower kept sinking and the lean got worse: from initial 0.2 degrees, it increased to 5.5 degrees lean towards the south. So, in the 1990s some engineers tried to fix the Tower’s lean by leveling the ground beneath it, using some anchoring mechanisms. This stabilized the Tower and reduced its tilt to 3.97 degrees. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long, so they tried again in 2008, and the tipping of the tower was successfully stopped. However, the ground isn’t fixed for good, so the Tower might start tilting again in the early 23rd century, as they predicted.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa on Square of Miracles
It’s Not the Only Structure in Pisa That Leans
Believe it or not, the Tower of Pisa is not the only structure in this Italian city that has an unusual posture. This is caused by city soft grounds for sure. But could it be also because of the lack of expertise of the Pisani architects? Among these leaning structures, you’ll see San Nicola, a 12th-century church located less than a kilometer from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and San Michele degli Scalzi, an 11th-century church about three kilometers towards the east.
… Nor in the World
The Tower has some serious competitors around the world, as well. Two towers in Germany have “out-leaned” the Pisani tower: the Leaning Tower of Surhuusen, dating back to the 14th century, and the tower of the 14th-century church Oberkirche. Also, the shorter of the Two Towers of Bologna leans farther than the Tower of Pisa.
Galileo Galilei and the Tower
There’s a legend related to the Tower and the famous Italian astronomer, physicist, and engineer Galileo Galilei. Apparently, Galileo had dropped balls of the same material, but different masses, from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to demonstrate that the speed of their fall was independent of their mass. However, there is no evidence that this ever happened, and today it is considered only as a thought experiment.
The famous Pisani tower
It Survived World War II
You might think that a tower this tall might not be the best option to hide your troops in — it looks like an easy target. But the German army thought it wasn’t the worst idea because it provided the best surveillance of the surroundings.
When the American troops arrived at the Italian ground they were ordered to destroy all buildings that could serve as a hiding place for the enemies, and the Leaning Tower was one of them. Luckily, the retreat took place shortly after the arrival, and they never made it to the Tower, so it survived the war without a scratch.
This miraculous tower is one of the most popular and most photographed Italian landmarks — you’ve seen so many people taking photos on which it looks like they’re pushing the Tower with their bodies. In 1987, the Tower was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with the Square of Miracles it stands on, and it was totally deserved.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is on our list of the most iconic European landmarks, so if you’re interested to find out about the rest of the list, check out our blog post on the following link: “7 Most Iconic Landmarks in Europe”