As one of Italy’s leading tourist attractions, the Leaning Tower of Pisa (aka: Torre de Pisa) ought not to be missed by anyone who comes to visit the country. It draws crowds not only for the way the exterior appears to be falling, but also for tourist to take a peak inside the stone walls. So, what exactly is the Leaning Tower of Pisa? How did it come to be? Why should you totally visit? In this guide you’ll find out!
Even if you don’t plan on staying in Pisa for long, at least put this famous building on your things to do in Florence list, as Pisa is merely an hour away by train from there!
Torre de Pisa: Insider Facts for Your Visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Leaning Tower of Pisa Facts
What is the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is an 8-story bell tower for the Pisa Cathedral in Pisa, Italy. It is famous for its almost 4-degree tilt because of the marshy ground it was built on. It is the third oldest building in Piazza del Duomo, the city’s Cathedral Square. Its construction began in August 1173 and was completed in 1372 after 200 years. The construction was halted twice, first in 1178 when the structure started tilting, and then in 1284 due to several wars that occurred at that time. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
As advancements in architecture and engineering progressed, a series of restorations were attempted over the years after its construction to decrease the tilt and stabilize the tower with no success. It was then closed to the public on January 7, 1990, after engineers deemed the progressing lean too dangerous to visitors. After 11 years of repairs and fortifications (while keeping its famous tilt), the tower was declared stable and reopened to the public on December 15, 2001.
Why Does it Lean? Is it Falling?
The lean of the Tower of Pisa is caused by the fact it was built on an unstable foundation. The ground was too soft to properly support the weight of the tower, and thus the leaning worsened and worsened throughout the years, appearing to actually be gradually falling. It reached its worst point of leaning, at 5.5 degrees, by 1990. Since then, reconstruction work has been done for a decade, restoring the lean to slightly below 4 degrees.
To tell you the truth: not much of anything! For the most part, it is simply hollow and surrounded by its smooth marble walls. There is a staircase of nearly 300 steps that you can take to get to the top of the tower, with seven towers along the way for you to stop at to admire the views of the outside. But besides those stairs, there truly isn’t anything in there, and you’ll even have to leave your belongings in the lockers outside – though none of that is to say you’d regret purchasing a ticket to visit the inside area of the Tower of Pisa!
The History of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Design and Construction
Due to the long process of building the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it took numerous architects and engineers to finish the work; among the most notable are Bonanno Pisano, Gherardo din Gherardo, and Tommaso Pisano. The construction of the tower got started in August of 1173, and would not finish until 344 years later. It was estimated it would have taken nearly 200 years to complete uninterrupted, but the disruption of wars, the lack of money to continue building the tower, and, of course, its structural flaws.
The structural flaw of the tower is precisely the degree to which it leans. The foundation of the tower is only 3 meters deep, with the clay mix not being strong enough to hold the tower upright, with it furthermore mixing with the soil below and softening the foundation even further.
The leaning of the tower became evident upon the completion of its third floor. At this point, the building of the tower was actually put on pause for a full 100 years, during which the city’s officials were concentrating on a war with Genoa.
When a new architect in the process, Giovanni di Simone, came into the project 100 years later he decided the best way to curb the lean was by building the tower taller. Unexpectedly, it ended up having the opposite effect, instead causing the torre de pisa to tilt even further. Despite this, a 7th floor was added, coupled with a bell tower as the very top, and then the tower remained untouched until the 19th century.
However, then 1838 came along, and with it an architect by the name of Alessandro Della Gherardesca. In order to allow for people to visit the tower indoors, he crafted a pathway at the base of the tower. As you may expect, this only caused the tower to further its lean again.
Today, the tower stands anchored, with its bell tower removed, and is open to visitors from all around the world.
Guinness World Records
The Leaning Tower of Pisa has also made the Guinness World Records for being the most tilted building in the world. It held the title until 2007, when it was discovered that the Leaning Tower of Suurhusen, located in a village in northwestern Germany, leans at an angle of 5.19, beating the Leaning Tower of Pisa since reconstruction work stabilized the leaning to below 4 degrees. Eventually, the Capital Gate tower, located in Abu Dhabi, snagged the Guinness World Records for most tilted building in the world for itself; however, a remarkable difference between this building with Tower of Pisa and Tower of Suurhusen is that the Capital Gate tower was intentionally built tilted, whereas the two leaning towers are so due to the shifts in the structures of the grounds they were built on.
Other Fun Facts
- The word Pisa comes from the Greek word meaning ‘marshy land’.
- The Leaning Tower of Pisa was built as part of the “Field of Miracles” (which includes a cathedral, baptistery, and cemetery) to display Pisa’s growing power after the Pisans amassed a large amount of treasure from their victory against the city of Palermo, Sicily in 1063.
- The Leaning Tower of Pisa was not always leaning. The tower’s foundation started to lean to one side in 1178 during the construction of its second floor because of the soft, marshy land. Several attempts were made to correct it, with one being to construct taller columns to offset the leaning side. However, this caused the tower to curve instead of just lean and the tilt progressed further.
- It was said that between 1589 and 1592, Galileo Galilei did his experiment regarding gravitational theory on the Leaning Tower of Pisa by dropping two spheres of different masses on its side. Some argue that the experiment did not take place and was considered a thought experiment only. Whether the experiment did take place or not, this story adds to the fascinating history of the tower.
- Because of the tower’s tilt, the north-side staircase has 296 steps while the south-side only has 294 steps.
- The seven bells at the top of the tower represent a musical note from the major scale, each having its unique tone and name. The bells were not rung back in the 20th century as the vibrations might cause the tower to lean further. In more recent times, however, the bells are being rung at noon.
- The tower was supposed to be 60 meters tall. Due to the lean, the tower stands at only 56.67 meters on the high side and 55.86 meters on the low side.
How to Visit
Where is the Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is located within the city of Pisa, which is located in the northern part of central Italy, in the Tuscany region. Within Pisa, you can find it at the Cathedral Square – locally known as Piazza del Duomo. There it is located behind the Pisa Cathedral. You can get more information on their website.
Getting There from Florence
As Pisa is only an hour’s train ride away from Florence, visiting the tower on a day trip or a half-day trip becomes an easy feat. Just take the train from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station to Pisa’s Pisa Centrale station, from where you have numerous bus line options – such as 070 and 080 – to choose from to get to your destination, getting off either at Pacinotti 1 or Torre 1 stop. Alternatively, you can drive the distance in less than 90 minutes.
Mind you that the ticket to enter the Leaning Tower of Pisa is €18 when bought on site, so you may want to look around online for cheaper deals if you want to see the site from the inside.
The easiest way to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa is to book a tour, and here are plenty of good options:
Does it surprise you that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is still standing at all? Or are you more upset it isn’t as tilted anymore as it used to be? It’s so interesting how this tower has become the main attraction of Piazza del Duomo and Pisa in general, when that was likely not its intended purpose. Either way, while you are visiting the tower, an intriguing man made marvel, do not miss out on the opportunity to discover the rest of Pisa as well.
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