Ultimate Guide to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy | Medieval Architectural Wonder
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
What is the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
Where is the Leaning Tower of Pisa Located?
Why is the Leaning Tower of Pisa so Popular?
While the tower has tilted back and forth over the years, it's current tilt is about 3.9 degrees off the vertical. One side of the tower stands taller than the other, making it look like a giant tilted wedding cake. No matter what day it is that you visit the Cathedral Square, you will find at least a couple of enthusiastic tourists posing for photographs as if they’re supporting the tower with their bare hands. The picturesque wedding cake beauty and its rich history make it an essential attraction on every tourist’s bucket list.
Why Does the Leaning Tower of Pisa Lean?
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
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.
Design and Structure of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Most Interesting Facts About the Leaning Tower of Pisa
- The Leaning Tower of Pisa was once the 7 Wonders of the World.
- It took almost 2 centuries to build the Tower of Pisa.
- Due to correction attempts in the past, the tower has changed directions before it settled on a southward tilt.
- Mussolini was ashamed of the Leaning Tower and attempted to correct the tilt but worsened it further instead.
- The Leaning Tower of Pisa can resume tilting once again.
Plan Your Visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Guided Tours: You can avail a guided tour to the Leaning Tower of Pisa with the Florence to Pisa Excursion with the Leaning Tower Admission Ticket or the All Tuscany in a day - Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa available with us.
For the Disabled: People with disabilities are allowed free entry into the Leaning Tower of Pisa along with their carers.
Wheelchair Accessibility: Unfortunately, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is not accessible by wheelchair.
Heart Patients or Lung Disabilities: Climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa requires a considerable amount of effort and could be tiring. It is recommended that the people who suffer from heart or lung ailments not attempt to climb the tower.
Museo Opera Del Duomo Pisa: This is the Cathedral Museum of Pisa that displays original artwork from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Baptistery, and the Cathedral.
Camposanto Monumentale: This is a walled cemetery situated at the northern edge of the Square. Although it once had a large collection, there are only about 84 Roman sculptures and sarcophagi.
Bottega dei Miracoli: Called the Shop of Miracles, you can buy handcrafted items and souvenirs made by organisations that support people with disabilities and women who are prisoners or have been victims of violence.