When you first visit Italy’s most remarkable architectural structure, it’s hard to not question, “What if the Leaning Tower of Pisa topples over?” Or, “How on Earth has it managed to defy the law of gravity for this long?” The answers lay in the very name of the city. Pisa translates to marshy land in Italian. Meaning, the foundation of this medieval European wonder is augered into shifty soggy soil, causing it to lean. As the soil shifts further, the tower leans even more. It is a miracle that the Leaning Tower of Pisa hasn’t crashed as yet. The engineering malfunction has, in fact, turned the tower and the neighbourhood into one of the most visited Italian hotspots. But before, I tell you why this 60 metres tall bell-tower has been straightening, let us first delve into its history.
Foundation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Leaning Tower of Pisa was built in 3-stages over a period of 199 years. Donna Berta di Bernardo bequeathed a large sum of money in the eleventh century. She decided on using this money towards the purchase of stones that form the base of the 60-metres tall bell tower. On August 14th, 1173, white marble foundations were laid. Forming the ground floor of the campanile! 1173 was also the year of military prosperity in Italy. Therefore, the Leaning Tower of Pisa symbolises both the political victory and the flourishing times of Italy. The ground floor is a complex of engaging corinthians columns. It’s called the blind arcade. Legends have it that Bonanno, a sculptor facilitated the foundations of the bell tower of Pisa.
The engineering malfunction began to appear 5 years from the tower’s construction period. In 1178, the tower began to sink. At this time, the second floor was under construction. The problem was the base foundation which is set at three-metre in the unstable subsoil. So to say, the building shouldn’t have been built in the first place. As fate had it, the Republic of Pisa was in constant wars with Lucca, Florence and Genoa at that time, so the construction of the tower was drawn to a stand for almost a century. It took 100 years for the underlying soil to settle and not have the tower topple. It’s a miracle that the tower never collapsed.
Redemption of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
In the 12th-century, the master-builder Guido Speziale continued re-building the tower. In an attempt to resurrect the tilt of the tower, the engineers decided to build upper floors with a curve. Meaning the upper floors have a design where one side is taller than the other. The construction was put to halt for a few years during the war period. In the 13th-century, the 7th-floor was completed and the bell-chamber was added. Tommaso di Andrea Pisano is said to have built the bell-chamber that portrays a Romanesque style of architecture infused with Gothic elements. Seven bells were installed, one for each musical note of the major scale. Although, the largest bell that you will see is the one that was installed in the sixteenth century. Interestingly the 7-bells have not been rung in the last hundred years.
Defying Gravity Forever
Defying gravity forever, the tower of Pisa is magically leaning ever since its inception 846 years ago. The tower was, in fact, leaning at a 5.5-degree angle until the 1990s. Perhaps why its neighbourhood is referred to as the square (or the field) of the miracles. This tallest bell tower of Europe may look like a fancy knocked-over wedding cake, however, when you think about the series of wars, it has witnessed and survived, you have a whole new perception about the landmark. With 207 columns ranging around eight stories, we still don’t know the name of the architect who drew the blueprint of this miraculous architecture.
The Pisa Tower is surrounded by 3 other buildings that compose the cathedral complex of Pisa. These are called Piazza Dei Miracoli (or Campo Dei Miracoli), meaning Field of Miracles. The first impressive building resting on a white marble pavement is Duomo Di Pisa. Splendiferously assembled with Romanesque architecture, Duomo Di Pisa features columns and arches, in grey-and-white striped marble. However, it’s Islamic dome with matching baptistery shines like a jewel from the emerald green lawn. Building next to it is the baptistery. Followed by the cemetery, Campo Santo, a holy burial ground with soil from the hill where Jesus was crucified.
Why is the Leaning Tower of Pisa Straightening?
Calculations suggest that the tower should have collapsed in the 1990s when it was tilting at 5.5 degrees. However, to understand what caused it to straighten, we need to visit the 1920s. In this year, solid cement foundation was injected to stabilise the tower. The rescue approach to stabilise the solid stone structure reduced the tilt to 3.97 degrees. But it still didn’t guarantee that the tower will not go down. In the 1990s, the world’s best engineers intervened with a new idea to rescue the tower from a fall. Almost with a catastrophic result. What they first did was that they bored holes 40 metres into the bedrock. After which, they established steel cables to stabilise the tower. In order to do that and not have the terrain flood the area with water, they pumped the holes with liquid nitrogen.
By freezing the ground, they also froze the water which expanded below the ground. When the water thawed, the ground shrunk causing the tower to rock back. Because of this, the mighty tower came very-close to collapsing. Engineers, however, redeemed the tower in time by securing it with cables. Then they began to slowly and slowly, drill the ground to remove the underlying sand. Only after that did the tower finally leaned back. This idea reduced the lean by 10-percent and since then the tower is statued in the same position. With time, however, the subsoil is settling and providing an even ground for the tower to stand vertically. Who knows, in the coming few years, the leaning tower of Pisa might even tilt back to a perfectly vertical position. Apart from surviving architectural mistakes, the Leaning Tower of Pisa also outlived 4 strong earthquakes and WWII. Despite the legendary attacks, the Leaning Tower of Pisa (or the freestanding belltower), firmly anchored to the Earth.
All through the consolidation work, this cathedral was closed for tourists. In recent times, the tower is open for climbing with 296 steps on one side and 294 on the other. If you ask me, what was it like, to visit this crowning glory of Piazza? I’d say, “astoundingly marvellous.” It indeed is a work of miracles!