"The Leaning Tower of Pisa" Italy Things to Do Tip by traveldave

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa is an iconic symbol of Italy, and attracts millions of visitors to Pisa who may not otherwise visit the city. The building serves as the campanile, or bell tower, of Pisa's cathedral. It may have been designed by Diotisalvi, but the identity of the architect may never be known. Whoever the architect was, he chose a bad spot on which to place his tower. Due to shifting subsoil, the tower started to lean after only three tiers were completed.

Of course, the tilt to the tower is what makes it famous. Without the tilt, it would just be a beautiful building and not one of the world's most recognizable landmarks. The seven-tiered tower is 183 feet (56 meters) tall on its low side and 186 feet (57 meters) tall on its high side. Prior to a structural-strengthening restoration project done between 1990 and 2001, the tower leaned 5.5 degrees. Today it leans 3.99 degrees, so long-held fears that the tower would topple have been eased.

The seven tiers of the Leaning Tower of Pisa were built in the Romanesque style of architecture, but the bell chamber at the top was built in the Gothic style.

Construction of the building was done in three stages over a period of 177 years. Work started in 1173, and the tower began to lean after only the third tier was completed. Construction did not last long before work was halted for almost a century because the Republic of Pisa engaged in costly battles with Genoa, Lucca, and Florence.

In 1272 work resumed under architect Giovanni di Simone. To compensate for the tilt, engineers built walls that were higher on the low side than on the high side. This probably saved the tower from toppling. In 1284, construction stopped again after Pisa was defeated by Genoa in a major battle.

The tower was finally finished in 1319. The Gothic bell chamber was added in 1372 and originally had six bells. The largest and seventh bell was installed in 1655.

Legend holds that Galileo Galilei dropped two cannon balls of different masses from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to demonstrate that speed of descent is independent of mass. However, this is probably an apocryphal story, as there is no evidence that this ever occured.

When I visited Pisa in 1982, it was possible to climb the 294 steps to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. However, due to continued leaning and the possiblity of collapse, it was closed in 1990. After the extensive structural work was complete, the tower was reopened to the public in 2001.

Directions: The Leaning Tower of Pisa is located on the Piazza Duomo, in Pisa.

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  • Updated Nov 11, 2010
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