The Pisa Tower, otherwise known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, really was a labor of love, taking well over a hundred and fifty years to build. This tower is the campanile of Italy's cathedral, which means that it is a freestanding bell tower. The tower is located in what is known as the Field of Miracles (Campo dei Miracles), which is behind the actual cathedral's main building. The tower's most distinctive feature is that although it was designed to stand vertically, its poorly laid foundation causes it to lean significantly toward the southeast. The lean angle is about 5.5 degrees, meaning that the tower's top is over 4 meters from where it would be if the building were correctly vertical.
Pisa Tower architecture
The Pisa Tower is a Romanesque style of architecture, keeping with the era when it was built. It weighs a bit over 14,700 tons and has walls that are 8 feet thick at the base. At the top of the tower, the bells are housed. There are seven bells in total, cast over hundreds of years from 1263 to 1654, and they are tuned to the typical musical scale.
When did it start leaning?
Construction on the Pisa Tower began in August of 1173. At this time in history, Pisa (and Italy in general) was going through a military success period, which means that money was flowing readily. During this first building period, the foundation was laid, and the first floor was constructed, according to the plans of the original architect, Bonanno Pisano. In 1178, construction stopped. Although the tower was nowhere near finished, the War with Firenze broke up, causing the men working on the building to enlist in the army and leave the construction site. This was the year the lean first became noticeable.
A slightly curved tower as well
Within the next ten years, the first three floors were added, but war once again got in the way of the building of this beautiful tower.
Over 100 years late, designer Giovanni di Simone began construction once again, adding three more layers to this leaning layer cake, and by 1284, the tower was considered finished at long last. Simone attempted to correct the leaning problem by building one side of the wall higher than the other, and for this reason, the building is, in fact, curved.
Carefully watched by scientists
The tower continues to sink every year, under the watchful eyes of scientists who ensure that the structure is still safe. Although the ground is still swampy below the tower, it has settled greatly from its first days of construction so that it only now sinks about one or two millimeters per year. It is quite safe for tourists, and it would be a shame to visit Italy without stopping by this grand architectural masterpiece.
Mussolini's failed attempt to put it back straight
Over the centuries, people have done studies on the tower, and some have even attempted to stop its lean. As a rule, Benito Mussolini ordered that the tower be fixed and worked attempted to achieve this by pouring concrete into the base foundation. However, this did not cause the building to tilt vertically, as Mussolini had hoped. Instead, it simply made the tower heavier, causing it to begin to sink even farther into the swampy soil below.
Several events allegedly happened at the Pisa Tower, although some were never officially recorded, so it is impossible to know if they actually took place. For example, Galileo was rumored to have dropped two cannonballs off of the tower on different sides to measure their mass and speed. One tale that is confirmed is the use of the building as a Nazi observation tower. The United States' decision not to strike ultimately saved the tower, while it would have otherwise been defaced and possibly collapsed.
Maintaining its lean as a tourist attraction
In the mid-1960s, the town of Pisa and Italy began exploring options to keep the tower from tumbling over. However, it was imperative to historians and government officials to maintain the tower's signature tilt, which has created its fame over the years. Without the inclination, tourism in Pisa would drop significantly. In 1990, after decades of studying the leaning landmark, a team of engineers, mathematicians, and historians decided to close the tower to the public for several years to work on stabilizing the lean. The building was actually closed for well over a decade, and the people living in the surrounding areas were vacated. They also used cables to secure the tower at the third-floor level, and they removed some of the weight by taking the bells out.In December 2001, the tower was reopened and declared safe and stable for at least 300 years. During the restoration project, the team considered various options and decided to decrease the lean by removing soil from the elevated side. They discovered that much of the lean was due to the actual stonework and building materials used to build the tower originally.
Sightseeing from within the tower
If you can get past the novelty of its leaning shape, the tower itself is quite beautiful. If you're so inclined (no pun intended), you can follow the almost 300 steps inside the spiraling building to the belfry. From the top f the tower, you can look over the city of Pisa, and on a clear day, you can see quite far.
Other buildings within the complex
Although the leaning tower is what makes the site famous, it's relatively small compared to other spectacular buildings that are part of the Campo dei Miracles.
The cathedral©Ron Gatepain
The cathedral's construction spanned two centuries from 1063 to 1272.
The baptistery©Ron Gatepain
The baptistery's base construction was from 1153 to 1277 and its dome was completed around 1363.
The cemetery©Ron Gatepain
There is also the less well-known indoor Campo Santo cemetery behind the cathedral.
Useful travel and visiting information
When to go to Pisa
From a wheater perspective, the nicest months to visit Pisa is usually during spring and fall months when it is not so hot. However, going to Pisa during the winter season will most likely be less crowded.
Places to stay
Of course, the most strategic place to spend the night before or after your visit would be the city of Pisa itself. However, there are plenty of nearby towns in the countryside around Pisa that could also be good spots to spend the night that are a short drive from the Tower's building complex. Lucca is also a short-distance city that could be a nice option to book a hotel.
How to get there
The historic Pisa Centrale Train Station offers most likely the most interesting place to go by when going to Pisa. It is a main connecting point for three important Italia Rail lines in Tuscany (from Rome, Florence and Genoa). The Pisa Tower is only at a 20-30 minutes walk or some regular buses can also drop you off by the site.
There is a parking lot named Parcheggio di Piazza dei Miracoli that is close to the Square of Miracles complex but it is often hard to find a place there. There are other parking lots that are further away that may require you to walk about 15-20 minutes.
The site security normally controls the flow and number of visitors that can access the site. Therefore it may be wise to buy your tickets in advance to make sure you don't lose too much time waiting at the gate.It is free if you simply want to walk around the site and visit the cathedral. Otherwise it costs 18 euros to climb the tower. There are also smaller fees (5-9 euros) to visit other monuments.
The city of Pisa is also worth exploring
While visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa, don't forget to check out the rest of the town as well. The city is home to several other attractions as well, including Knight's Square, the churches of St. Sixtus and St. Francis, The Medici Palace, the Borgo Stretto, and Palazzo Reale (the 'Royal Palace'). This is really a beautiful, old city and well worth a visit on your tour of Italy.