Ultimate Guide to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy | Medieval Architectural Wonder

Nestled in Pisa, the Leaning Tower stands tall with a captivating tilt, a testament to architectural miscalculation. Its quirky angle, unintended yet iconic, draws history enthusiasts and curious travelers alike from world over. This freestanding...

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Did you know?

The tilt was intentional: Contrary to popular belief, the tilt of the Leaning Tower of Pisa was not an accident. In fact, it was actually intended from the very beginning due to the soft, unstable ground upon which it was built. But the architects believed that they could control the amount of tilt by building it with increasing levels of curvature as it ascended.

The tower was almost abandoned: Construction of the Leaning Tower of Pisa began in 1173, but it was halted in 1178 due to funding issues. The tower remained incomplete for almost a century until work resumed in 1272.

Galileo's gravity experiment: Uncover the legend of Galileo Galilei's famous experiment from the Leaning Tower. While unproven, the story goes that he supposedly dropped objects to test the acceleration due to gravity.

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The Tower of Pisa was first designed to be a bell tower. But as the architects of the 12th century didn’t have enough knowledge of the soil composition, they didn’t account for the clay soil of Pisa. After building just three out of eight stories, the tower began to tilt, giving it its popular name, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

leaning tower of pisa

Why Does the Leaning Tower of Pisa Lean?

leaning tower of pisa tilt

When the bell tower in Piazza del Duomo was first designed, the clay soil in Pisa wasn't taken into consideration and the foundation could only be built 3 meters deep. During construction, the soil started to shift underneath the tower, sinking the tower into the soil. Because of poor knowledge about soil mechanics, the construction of the tower was halted many times and it took almost 2 centuries to complete the construction.

Technical Information of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

leaning tower of pisa height

Elevation of Piazza del Duomo: approx. 2 meters

Height of the Tower from the Ground Floor: 8 stories, 55.863 m

Outer Diameter of the Base: 15.484 m

Angle of Tilt: 3.97 degrees from the vertical

Tower Displacement: 3.9 m from the vertical

Weight: 14,700 metric tons

Number of Bells: 7 bells tuned to musical scale

Who Built the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

The first construction of the tower is usually attributed to Bonanno Pisano in 1174. The construction was stopped when the tower started to lean. 

In 1234, Benenato tried to add longer columns on the southern side than the northern side to correct the tilt. He added one more story and gave up as the tower continued to lean.

In 1260, William of Innsbruck added the sixth and seventh stories to the Tower of Pisa.

In 1350, Tommaso Pisano started to add the eighth story of the tower and also made the spiral stairs inside. In 1372, the tower was finally completed, almost 200 years after it began, and it was still leaning.

History of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

  • 1173 - The construction of the bell tower begins.
  • 1178 - Construction is paused because the tower starts to tilt due to its massive weight.
  • 1272 - Giovanni de Simone resumes the construction the construction of the bell tower.
  • 1284 - Construction is once again halted because Pisa's defeat in the Battle of Meloria.
  • 1319 - Seventh floor is added to the bell tower.
  • 1372 - The construction is finally complete.
  • 1838 - Gerardesca exposes the base of the tower and worsens the tilt.
  • 1934 - Mussolini attempts modifications to make the tower straight but worsens it further.
  • 1990 - The tower is closed for corrections. 
  • 2001 - The Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens for visits.

Learn More About History of Leaning Tower of Pisa

Design and Structure of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

leaning tower of pisa design

The Design

The height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa was originally meant to be 60 meters. The name of the original architect of this tower is a mystery to this day, but its first construction can be attributed to Bonanno Pisano. 

The tower has eight stories in total. The bottom story has 15 columns and the next six stories have 30 columns each. The top story is a bell-chamber that has 16 more columns. Two sets of spiral staircases run inside the tower to take you to the top.

leaning tower of pisa architecture

Architectural Style

The Tower of Pisa was initially designed to showcase Pisa’s power and influence. The tower is made from solid white marble and in Romanesque style from the medieval era. This style of architecture was present between the 10th and 12th centuries and adopted some features of Roman and Byzantine architecture. This architectural style features thick walls, rounded arches and large towers, much of what the Leaning Tower represents.

Leaning Tower of Pisa Highlights

leaning tower of pisa stairs

The Stairway

There are five different sets of stairs inside the Leaning Tower of Pisa. While some of these are to only access specific parts of the tower, two flights of spiral stairs take you to the top of the tower. 

spiral stairs leaning tower of pisa

Narrow Spiral Stairs

The tower is mostly hollow and has two sets of spiral staircases that go to the top. Because of the centuries of time that has passed since the tower was built, the steps have become slightly eroded.

leaning tower of pisa tilt

Feeling the Tilt

As the tower is tilted about 4 degrees, you will be able to feel the tilt as soon as you enter the tower. As you start climbing, some visitors might also feel a little dizzy.

inside leaning tower of pisa

Looking Up

The leaning tower appears to be a hollow cylindrical tube as you look up. Some light comes through the glass ceiling, which gives you a view to the top of the tower.

leaning tower of pisa window

Windows and Openings

There is no artificial lighting inside the tower. The light that comes into the tower is from the windows and openings from the upper stories of the building.

leaning tower of pisa bells

Bells on Top

As the tower of Pisa was designed to be a bell tower, there are 7 bells placed on the top of the tower, each tuned to the musical scale.

leaning tower of pisa glass ceiling

Glass Ceiling

There is also a pentagon shaped glass covering on the top of the tower that allows you to look into the tower from the top. 

leaning tower of pisa view

Panoramic Views

At the top of the Leaning Tower, you will not only be able to see the Cathedral square but also experience the panoramic views of the beautiful city of Pisa.

The Leaning Tower Surviving Earthquakes

Since 1280, at least 4 strong earthquakes have hit the Leaning Tower of Pisa. However, the apparently vulnerable tower survived. A group of 16 engineers investigated the tower to understand how it was able to survive. Their research concluded that the tower was standing on a Dynamic Soil-Structure Interaction (DDSI). The stiff tall tower along with the soft foundation soil creates a balance that moves along with the waves of an earthquake in such a way that the tower doesn't resonate with the moving ground. The same soil that brought the tower to the verge of collapse is what protected it from earthquakes as well.

Guinness World Record Challenges

leaning tower of suurhusen

Two naturally constructed churches located in Germany challenge the tilt of the Leaning Tower of Pisa; the 14th Century bell tower in Bad Frankenhausen and the 15th Century Leaning Tower of Suurhusen. In June 2010, the Guinness World Record for the most lopsided building was taken by the Capital Gate in Abu Dhabi as the "World's Furthest Leaning Man-made Tower" with an 18 degree slope. The Leaning Tower of Wanaka is also a deliberately lopsided building like the Capital Gate and leans at a 53 degree lean to the ground.