UNESCO ‘World Heritage Sites’: Why the Leaning Tower of Pisa tilted over


THEY call it The Leaning Tower of Pisa – ‘Torre Pendente di Pisa’ inItalian–for good reason.…Groundbreaking for the Tower begun on a date like today’s some 844 years ago– on August 9, 1173CE (Christian Era), to be exact–and construction was completed in Year-1372CE: 199 years later!

Listed by UNESCO in Year-1987 as a ‘World Heritage Site’ –together with the Cathedral, Baptistery and Cemetery in Pisa City’s Square of Miracles (‘Piazza dei Miracoli’) – the Tower in the ‘Pisa Cathedral Square’ is a major tourist attraction, pulling in over 1-million tourists annually! [See Leaning Tower of Pisa -Wonders of the World.net].

[A 90 minutes-long Cultural Walking Tour of Pisa that takes in the Leaning Tower costs a minimum €39: roughly Tsh99,000 at current exchange rates!] Constructed of marble stone in the medieval Romanesque architectural style, the structure rises to 56.67m on its higher side, and 55.86m on its lower side.

No wonder that it’s called the ‘Leaning Tower,’ as the 14,500-tonne campanile (a free-standing bell tower) was erected on marshy ground! ‘Pisa’ is Ancient Greek for ‘marshland.’

So, the massive structure took next-to-no-time to tilt over right from the early days of its construction! Talk of the ‘Law of Natural (and Logical) Consequences!’ Construction of the Leaning Tower of Pisa occurred in three stages over 199 years, after work on the ground floor of the white marble campanile began on August 14, 1173.

Then the Tower began to sink in Year-1178 when the construction had progressed to the 2nd floor. This was because the threemetre thick foundation–set in weak, unstable subsoil that was too soft to support the structure’s weight – started to ‘fail!’

In any case, construction was halted for almost a century–basically because the Republic of Pisa was almost continually engaged in military battles with Genoa, Lucca and Florence. Indeed, this may have allowed time for the underlying soil to settle.

Otherwise, the tower’d almost certainly have toppled over during that period! However, the tilt had gradually increased as construction went on… Until the building was somewhat stabilized–and the tilt partially-corrected– by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries!

But, before that, when construction resumed in Year-1272, the Engineers built the upper floors with one side taller than the other in an effort to compensate for the tilt–hence giving the tower its curved shape…Whew!

Construction was halted again in Year-1284 when the Pisa was defeated in a war with Genoa in the Battle of Meloria. Then, what with one thing leading to another, the seventh floor was completed in 1319 – and the bell-chamber for seven bells was added in 1372…

Prior to the restoration work between 1990 and 2001, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees. It now leans at about 3.99 degrees. This means that the top of the tower is displaced horizontally 3.9 metres (12ft-10in) from the centre.

But the structure isn’t alone in what’s collectively known as ‘the complement of the ceremonial complex of monuments that enrich the ‘Piazza dei Miracoli’ …

Other such monuments are the ‘Il Duomo di Pisa’ (Cathedral of Pisa), the ‘Bell Tower of Pisa,’ the ‘Monumental Cemetery,’ a University, and the Baptistery where the Italian Astronomercum-Physicist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was baptized in 1565!

Also, the ‘Leaning Tower’ isn’t the only tilted structure in the area! Others are the Bell Towers at the Church of St. Michele dei Scalzi and the Church of St. Nicola… Sadly, we’re told, “the Cathedral and Baptistery are also sinking!”

Oh, ‘The Leaning Tower of Pisa’ is a long, interesting story. Not only did the structure take two centuries to construct… It has been leaning over for more than 800 long years without completely toppling over!

Also, it sounds fortuitous that, although the Germans were using the Tower as an observation post during World WarTwo (WW-II: 1939-45), the Allied Forces (Britain, USA, etc) were so impressed by the beauty (?) of the Cathedral and its campanile that they refrained from razing it to the ground!

And, numerous efforts to restore the Tower to a vertical orientation – or, at least: keep it from falling over – have principally failed, with some actions worsening the tilt!

On the other hand, however, the Italians, God Bless Them, consider it important to retain the current tilt, which plays a major role in promoting the tourism industry of Pisa and Italy in general… [See ‘Securing the Lean In Tower of Pisa.’

The New York Times. Nov. 1, 1987]. Cheers!

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