9 August 2016

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Poor foundations created tourist attraction by accident

The Leaning Tower has been declared  stable for the first time in its history
The Leaning Tower has been declared
stable for the first time in its history 
Work began on the construction of a freestanding bell tower for the Cathedral in Pisa on this day in 1173.

The tower’s famous tilt began during the building process. It is believed to have been caused by the laying of inadequate foundations on ground that was too soft on one side to support the weight of the structure.

The tilt became worse over the years and restoration work had to be carried out at the end of the 20th century amid fears the tower would collapse.

At its most extreme the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees but since the restoration work undergone between 1990 and 2001 the tower leans at about 3.99 degrees.

The identity of the architect responsible for the design of the tower is not clear but the problem with the structure began after work had progressed to the second floor in 1178.

It is thought the tower would have toppled had construction not been halted for almost a century while Pisa, a Tuscan seaport, fought battles with Genoa, Lucca and Florence. This allowed time for the soil beneath the tower to settle.

When construction resumed in 1272, the upper floors were built with one side taller than the other to compensate for the tilt. The seventh floor was completed in 1319 and the bell chamber added in 1372.

In 1987, the 60-metre high tower was included in the Piazza del Duomo Unesco World Heritage site along with the neighbouring cathedral and baptistery.

The tower was closed to the public in 1990 while work was carried out to straighten it. The tower was effectively returned to its position in 1838.

It was reopened to the public in 2001 when it was declared that it would be stable for another 300 years.  In 2008, engineers announced that the tower had stopped moving for the first time in its history.

The Leaning Tower -- in Italian the Torre Pendente di Pisa -- has made Pisa famous and is a popular tourist attraction.

Pisa's Duomo, with the bell tower in the background
Pisa's Duomo, with the bell tower in the background
Travel tip:

The tower is one of the four buildings that make up the cathedral complex in the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) in Pisa. The Duomo was the first to be constructed, followed by the Baptistery. While work on the tower was being carried out, a cemetery (Campo Santo) was added.

Travel tip:

During the summer the tower is open to visitors from 08.30 to 22.00. Tickets to climb the tower are limited and booking in advance is recommended if you want to avoid queueing. For more details, visit www.towerofpisa.org/tickets.

(Photo of Leaning Tower by medajancik CC BY-SA 3.0)

More reading:

The collapse of the campanile in St Mark's Square


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