Leaning Tower of Pisa – An Accidental Star of Pisa

Visitors Can Climb The Leaning Tower of Pisa For an Aerial View of Pisa and its Surrounds:

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Tower of Pisa © Travel Signposts

After over a decade of being strapped in steel cables and inaccessible to tourists, the Leaning Tower of Pisa or La Torre di Pisa (officially called the Torre Pendente di Pisa) is open once again. Nearly $30 million was spent to prevent the tower from leaning any further to avoid total collapse. Now the Tower of Pisa is good for another 300 years.

Begun on August 8, 1173 AD, the Torre Pisa has been an architectural problem almost from its beginning. Owing to soft ground and a shallow foundation, the Tower of Pisa began to lean as early as the time the third floor was completed in 1274. This despite the over 13 foot-thick walls at the base. But engineers at the time had few resources to call on. There was no ground penetrating radar, geological science, lasers or huge cranes to right the work.

Why was the Tower of Pisa Built?

The Tower’s lean has attracted many visitors over the centuries, including Galileo who conducted his experiments on the velocity of falling objects from the top. Many may wonder why the Leaning Tower of Pisa was built. Ironically, the tower is not, or more accurately was not, the main attraction of the site. It was intended as a Campanile (bell tower) for the nearby Duomo which forms part of the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). Both are extraordinary works of Romanesque-Gothic art. It’s only because of an unfortunate engineering failure that the tower is the more famous of the two structures.

But far from being considered a failure at the time, it was not completely unknown for buildings to be less than perfect over 800 years ago. There are examples in Germany, Ireland and even not far away inside Tuscany of both towers and rectangular buildings that lean slightly.

Still, visitors today will be thrilled by the view from below or above.

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Top Layers of Tower of Pisa © Travel Signposts

From the base, standing far back from the tower, one can see the round, layer-cake type facade. The base is somewhat plain, but not far up there are magnificent columns. The elaborate carving is even more amazing when one considers that the major construction effort was completed less than 200 years after beginning.

The project was stalled for about 100 years while the Pisans engaged in battles with Genoa and other Italian city-states of the period. Then, picking up in 1275 AD it stalled again in 1284 AD, just before the belfry was added. Finally, in 1360, the building topped out at 51 metres.

From the perspective of distance those who observe carefully can see that not only is the tower leaning (which is obvious), but that it is curved as well. Noting the lean, builders attempted to compensate by making some of the floors taller on the side opposite. The result gives the tower its slight banana shape.

Fortunately, since digging out 70 tons of earth from below the ground, the tower was reopened in December 2001. Visitors in groups of 30 can now go up inside for a 30-minute guided tour. Be sure to obtain your Tower of Pisa tickets in advance of your visit as this is a hugely popular attraction.  During the summer months, tickets are frequently sold out.  If you prefer to buy your ticket when you are there, the ticket office is located in the Piazza dei Miracoli.

Now, tourists can see the surrounding area from on high, as well as some of the magnificent bells in the belfry. Not to worry about the lean, though. It’s only 13 feet from the vertical and modern engineering has ensured a safe visit.

If you’re holidaying in Florence, there are many tours and private transfers that will take you to to Pisa from Florence.  See the list of options here.> A better option is to stay in Pisa itself.  See here for the range of hotels in Pisa and read hotel reviews here.

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