Fun Facts About the Leaning Tower of Pisa You Probably Didn't Know
Everyone has heard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the world's most famous slanted building. But how well do people actually know this eye-catching tower?
Most are only interested in its looks and never bother to wonder about its life story. Did it once have dreams of being a regular straight tower? What are the benefits and drawbacks of worldwide fame? And does it sometimes feels like giving in to gravity?
We may not be able to do an Oprah-style interview with the most popular building in Pisa, Italy, but we can give you the answers to these questions and many more. It turns out that the tower's looks are its least interesting attributes.
Get to know the inner world of the Leaning Tower of Pisa with these fascinating facts.
1. The Tower of Pisa Has Been Standing For about 850 Years
The Leaning Tower of Pisa has been standing for over eight centuries. Construction of the tower began in 1173. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, Ghengis Khan would have been around 11 years old.
However, like its facade, the tower's history is anything but straightforward. Just five years after the project began, people noticed that it was starting to lean because one side was sinking into the ground, which was too soft. Only three stories had been constructed, but fears of it falling over halted any work for a hundred years.
Miraculously, the tower withstood the century without crashing down, so work was resumed in the 1270s. Some progress was made, but in 1284, war once again forced the project to pause.
The building would have to wait until 1372 — almost 200 years after the start of the construction — for the bell chamber to be finished, thus marking its completion.
2. War Probably Kept It From Falling
Let's go back to the war of 1284 for a second.
No one likes interruptions, and wars are never a good thing. The Battle of Meloria was undoubtedly bad news for the city of Pisa since it lost to Genoa and thereafter never regained its power. But in an ironic and almost cruel twist of history, the war may have also helped save the tower.
Historians believe that the pause in construction allowed time for the structure's foundation to settle into the ground in a more stable manner. Without added weight, its sinking slowed down. If work had continued as planned, the Tower of Pisa would likely not be standing today.
3. Many Corrections Have Been Made to Keep It Standing
Since the beginning, architects and engineers have attempted to correct or minimize its signature lean. Some of these interventions made things worse, but others have been paramount to preserving this landmark.
Some of the worst ideas came from early architects. They purposefully made new levels taller on the sinking side of the tower to compensate for the tilt. As you could expect, the added weight and lack of balance only aggravated the problem and brought the tower to the verge of collapse.
From 1990 to 2001, a 27-million dollar project significantly reduced the tower's tilt to about 13.5 feet.
4. No One Knows Why the Tower Hasn't Plummeted
We know why the Leaning Tower of Pisa is leaning. It was not well-designed. From the beginning, the structure had a foundation of only 10 feet on soft and unstable ground. Pisa's most famous attraction never had a chance of normalcy.
But what's truly fascinating is that no one understands why the building is still standing. Even modern technology has been able to answer the question. John Burland, leader of the team who saved the tower from collapsing in the 1990s, told Scientific American: "No matter how many calculations we made, the tower should not have been standing at all. ... The height and weight coupled with the porous soil meant it should have fallen centuries ago."
Maybe in 200 years, our superior descendants will have an answer, but for now, we can chalk it up to a miracle and be happy that we haven't lost this iconic landmark.
5. The Leaning Tower of Pisa Is Part of a Larger Historical Complex
Pisa's most famous landmark is only one in four buildings that make up the Campo dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles.
Also known as the Piazza dei Miracoli, or Square of Miracles, the complex is the heart of the city and is considered one of Italy's best examples of medieval Romanesque architecture.
The real star is the awe-inspiring white marble Cathedral. Then there's the baptistery, the cemetery, and the bell tower, which tends to steal the show with its tilt.
6. Galileo Used the Tower for Experiments
According to Vincenzo Viviani, Galileo's closest pupil, the famed scientist used the Tower of Pisa for one of his most famous experiments.
In his "Historical Account of the Life of Galileo Galilei," Viviani recounts how Galileo dropped two cannonballs of the same size but different masses from the top of the tower. He was testing whether heavier objects fell faster and was shocked to learn that they did not.
This simple experiment, courtesy of the Pisa bell tower, made him question Aristotle's teachings on the physics of motion.
7. The Tower of Pisa Has Withstood Four Strong Earthquakes
The feeble-looking Tower of Pisa has survived four earthquakes that brought down more stable structures.
Ironically, this is because the very same soft soil that makes the building sink also reduces movement caused by the shock of the quakes. A more stable ground would shake more violently when ruptured.
You can't say life has no sense of humor.
8. The U.S. Almost Damaged the Tower During WWII
Gravity has been the archenemy of the Leaning Tower of Pisa since the beginning. But for a brief period during World War II, the United States also sought to destroy it.
Allied intelligence believed that Germans and Italian soldiers had taken over the tower and were using it as a lookout post.
As the legend goes, the U.S. army was supposed to raid the tower in the hopes of catching any enemy soldiers. But Sergeant Leon Weckstein reportedly was so enthralled by the astonishing white marble cathedral and its leaning landmark that he decided an artillery strike would be a sin.
In King Kong, beauty killed the beast. In Pisa, beauty saved the tower.
9. The Tower Won't Be Falling Anytime Soon
You don't have to rush a visit to Pisa if you're worried that the tower will fall before you can go.
According to the same group of engineers who helped correct its slant in the '90s, the tower should be good to go for at least another 200 years.
10. Like a Fine Italian Wine, It Gets Better With Age
But don't put off your visit for too long. Italian food, history and indelible memories beckon.
As one Italian visitor said:
"The Tower of Pisa reminds us that mistakes are sometimes necessary, often beautiful too.
Things I discovered about the most famous Leaning Tower in the world (+ 1 confirmation):
Climbing the 276 steps leading to the top of the bell tower would bring bad luck to those about to graduate.
It was originally intended to be a majestic musical instrument with twelve bells for solemn holidays. Twelve like musical notes.
Now confirm it. There is nothing more fun than watching people intent on having the classic photo taken in which they 'hold' the Tower and instead look like ... idiots."