The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a centuries-old icon that has been both a cultural icon and major tourist spot for people around the world. Simply login into your Instagram account, and you are going to find countless photos of people cheesing at this historical oddity.
In fact, if you were to bring up the Leaning Tower of Pisa to a random person right now, the chances are that they will have a pretty good idea about what you are talking about.
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Yet, how much do you know about the tower? Just like the structure, the history and facts surrounding the building are a little odd, making the Leaning Tower of Pisa, an exciting study of history, politics, and architecture.
From plundered loot to unreliable subsoils, and years of engineering missteps, today we are going to explore some of the most interesting facts about the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
1. Showing off stolen money
What would be the first thing you would do after getting away with a massive heist or sacking an important city? How about building an opulent Cathedral, Baptistery, cemetery, and one very tall bell tower? The medieval Italian city of Pisa was flourishing in the 12th century, becoming a regional powerhouse.
After ransacking Palermo, Sicily, the current government decided it was time to create the “Field of Miracles” which would go on to be the land where the Leaning Tower of Pisa resides.
2. Two centuries of construction
As for building the famous bell tower, that process would take a couple of lifetimes, literally. Construction of the Leaning Tower of Pisa took approximately two centuries to complete.
The campanile did break ground in 1173, and workers even made it to the third story of the structure. However, military conflicts with other Italian states constantly pushed back the completion of the bell tower. Construction did not officially end until 1372.
3. There are other leaning towers of Pisa in Pisa
So, yes, there are many more leaning towers in the city of Pisa. Venturing throughout the city, and you will soon discover that there are quite a few Pisani structures that suffer from foundation instability.
The San Nicola 12th century church and 11th century San Michele Degli Scalzi church have the same leaning issue. However, they do not top San Michele Degli Scalzi which has a 5-degree tilt. But why?
4. Bad Design and Bad Luck
The tower got its iconic lean simply because of poor planning and some bad geographical luck. In fact, some have said that the tower’s lean could have been prevented with better planning. Yet, would you still have gone to see it?
The area’s shallow foundation and soft ground are to blame. Pisa is comprised of sand, clay, and deposits from the surrounding Tuscan rivers. This makes the foundation unstable in the area where the tower has been built. Interestingly enough, the name “Pisa” comes from the Greek word for “marshy land.”
5. Didn't start leaning immediately
Now, the Leaning Tower did not just start leaning immediately. The process itself has been progressive. However, the tower did show signs of a compromised foundation once the second story was added. Even as the tower sank into the ground, the tower was too far along to stop construction.
The process of leaning progressively got worse as each new floor was added. This was actually another reason why construction was temporarily halted.
6. Leaning in multiple directions
Believe it or not, the tower has leaned in multiple directions. So after finally seeing the errors of their ways, the engineers responsible for the tower tried to correct the famous lean. However, while trying to do this, the center of gravity was thrown off, and the tower began to lean in a different direction. Eventually, it would swing back to its southward tilt that you know and love today.
7. Mussolini tried to fix it
In 1934, infamous Italian dictator Benito Mussolini decided that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was an embarrassment. It is actually well documented that he hated the tower. In a misguided attempt to fix the tower, the dictator drilled holes at the base of the foundation and pumped tons of grout into it. Yes, this made the tilt much worse, sinking the tower much deeper into the ground.
8. Is it still tilting?
The good news is that currently, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is stable. However, it was not until 2001 that someone got the foundation to settle. Yet, it might not last. Engineers believe that stability will last 200 years. After that, the Leaning Tower of Pisa could start leaning again but much worse.
9. Yes, you can climb it
So now that you know it is stable, go ahead and climb it. It is currently open for visitors, and if you are still not convinced, you can rest assured that since its restoration and slight tilting that it is safe. At the top, you will find the tower’s 8,000-pound bells. However, these seven bells have not rung in the last century.
Have you visited the Leaning Tower Pisa?