The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
Perhaps it’s all a marketing scam, this leaning tower thing. Perhaps it was meant to be built like that!
There’s a school of thought that says the slant of the tower in Pisa was no accident. These ‘experts’ claim it may have been because of Pisa’s rivalry with Florence at the time that the city wanted something to distinguish itself. What better way to make your city renowned through all the lands than with an iconic building that has no equal in the world? Well, maybe, but…
It’s not a commonly-believed theory. For years scientists and engineers have studied the building, trying to work out how it happened, how to fix it and how to stop it unexpectedly falling on top of a bunch of tourists one day! It’s fascinating to discover that the architecture of almost a thousands years ago still baffles experts of today.
Why does Pisa Tower lean?
Assuming the design was not intentional, the most popular theory about the tower’s lean is simply that the soil it was built on wasn’t strong enough to support the weight – basically it had too much sand and silt in it from the flooding of a nearby river estuary. On the south side of the tower, the soil is slightly more compressible, which is why the foundations of the building sank in that direction.
What many people don’t realise is that it took about 200 years to complete the whole building (partly because of the challenges of the construction and partly because a couple of pesky wars distracted everybody). As the lower part started to shift early on, the subsequent levels were built at a different tilt to try to compensate. As it turns out, these alterations only made things worse, but at least the builders were able to finish the job.
Climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Climbing up those stairs to the top is certainly a strange experience. You tilt with the tower, taking on a lean that feels unnatural, even though you’re in alignment with the walls close on either side of you. The staircase to the top is circular, leading around the inside wall (the middle of the tower is hollow). If your body’s internal senses can’t tell you which way you are leaning as you spiral up the building, the grooves in the stairs will help. They are each worn out in a different place, as thousands of people over the years have stepped on the spots that seemed most natural.
There’s a limit to the number of people who can climb at any one moment and you need to buy a ticket for an allotted time. Still, millions of people every year make the ascent up the narrow passageway to experience it for themselves – and see the fantastic view from the top.
Will they ever stop Pisa’s tower leaning?
Although there have been efforts to ‘right’ the tower, that would kind of ruin the fun, wouldn’t it? The emphasis these days seems to be more on strengthening it so it doesn’t get any worse – the main way they’re doing that is by placing weights on one side of the foundation to offset the tilt. That wasn’t the view of Mussolini, though, who thought the ‘lean’ was more of a ‘droop’ and reflected badly on Italy’s esteem. He ordered his best engineers to fix it. Unsuccessfully, as we all know.
Obviously it’s the lean that makes the tower so famous but even without that it would be considered an architectural marvel. There probably wouldn’t be quite as many people visiting every year if it was straight but at least it would cut down on the number of stupid photos of people holding it up!