Amazing Facts About The Leaning Tower Of Pisa

Last Updated on May 8, 2021

The Leaning Tower Of Pisa is one of those things you see all your life in photos and you expect it to be disappointing when you’re on your way to see it. Then you see it in person, and you realize why it is so iconic.

When you see it, the Tower of Pisa is breathtaking. The tower really is massively leaning and the buildings surrounding it are very attractive. It is bigger, more elegant and leans further than we had expected. It was an amazing sight to see, and fun for some photo ops of holding up the tower, or pushing it over.

Utilizing many columns and arches, this tower represents an advanced understanding of weight and load characteristics. What the architect forgot to account for, was the base of the tower being built on a dense section of clay.

There’s More To Pisa Than The Leaning Tower

Pisa is generally well known for the ‘leaning tower.’ However, Pisa is also home to more than 20 other historic churches, several palaces, and various bridges across the River Arno. If you have extra time while in Pisa, you’ll want to check out the Duomo, the Baptistry, and the Camposanto Monumentale.

Pisa Is A Popular Day Trip Option

Most people visit Pisa as a day trip, only hanging around long enough to walk to the leaning tower and wander around a bit. We were on a bit of a tight schedule between trains but took in as much as we could with the few hours we had. If you are a culturally or historically interested person, it would be worth the journey to see this amazing piece of art.

Even if you only have a few hours to stop in, it is definitely worth your time and energy to check out the Leaning Tower Of Pisa. Pisa was a quiet place on the walk from the train station, with a large number of people obviously around the tower. The area around the tower also has many, many peddlers flogging their knock-off bags, watches, and soccer jerseys and we enjoyed walking around the little market of all their shops.

One regret we have is not climbing the tower. If you want to climb the tower, we suggest pre-booking your tickets as there is only a limited amount available each day. You would not want to arrive to find that you’re out of luck.

Leaning Tower Of Pisa

Hot Dog Pizza

Wandering down the streets, we found this cute pizza place and ordered one of their specialty pizzas, the hot dog pizza. I do not generally like hot dogs, but I am always up for something different and jumped at the chance to try it. It was delicious, but what else would you expect from Italy?

Our visit to Pisa was before kids, but we would love to take our kids one day. We told our kids about this hot dog pizza and now they joke about it really being the Leaning Tower of Pizza.

We are very historically curious and love to find out as much as we can about the places we visit. We find that it helps to give us a greater appreciation for all of these incredible places in the world.

Below is everything you could ever want to know about the Leaning Tower Of Pisa History.

Leaning Tower Of Pisa Location

Pisa tower and the cathedral complex are located in a walled complex called “Piazza dei Miracoli” (otherwise known as the Piazza del Duomo or Cathedral Square). It is one of the most impressive architectural complexes in the world. The complex is also an important area of medieval art.

The construction of the Tower of Pisa began in 1173. It was the third and final structure to be added to Pisa’s cathedral complex.

The tower is free-standing and is not directly connected to the Cathedral of Pisa.

How Tall Is The Leaning Tower Of Pisa?

The tower was originally designed to stand 185 feet high and was built from white marble, lime, and stones.

The design of the tower was flawed from the beginning as the foundations of the tower were only 3 meters deep, and were built on the ground consisting of clay, fine sand, and shells.

Correction Attempts

Giovanni di Simone was the engineer that tried to compensate for the lean. He tried making the new stories slightly taller on the short side. His idea did not quite work because the adjustment still caused the structure to continue to sink. Other engineers tried to resolve the issue, but with no success.

Inside The Pisa Tower

A twin spiral staircase lines the tower’s interior. There are 294 steps that lead from the ground to the bell chamber. One of the twin staircases has two extra steps to compensate for the tower’s lean.

Uneven Settling Between Ground And Foundation

Three stories of the tower were completed before it was noticed that there was an uneven settling between the building’s foundation and the ground.

War broke out after the completion of the first three stories, and it caused construction to stop for almost a century. This pause benefitted the tower because it gave time for the soil under the foundation to settle. The soil settling prevented an early collapse of what would become known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The Tower Tilts And Stands For The Same Reason

The soil is the cause of the tilt of the tower. However, the soil was also saved the tower from collapsing during earthquakes. The soft soil does not vibrate with the earthquake motion.

How crazy is it that the soil both has an extreme pull on the tower, both ways?

Research shows that if there would have not been that stoppage in construction, all that would have been left for people to see would have been the ruins of Pisa tower.

Seven Bells

Seven bells were installed over four centuries. The largest of them all weighed a whopping 8,000 pounds. The heavier bells had to be silenced though, as it was thought that the movement of the bells would further cause the tower to lean.

Foundations Were Strengthened In 1990

The first attempt at securing the tower was by using injections of cement grout, bracing, and reinforcements. That did not work as the tower was still subsiding at a rate of 1.2mm per year and was in danger of collapsing.

In 1990 engineers closed the tower to take on a straightening attempt. They siphoned the earth from underneath the foundations. This decreased the lean to 13.1 feet. It took until May of 2001 when the tower was re-opened to visitors. The tower continued to straighten on its own. In May 2008, testing showed that there was an improvement of 19 inches and that the movement of the tower had stopped. It was said that the tower would be able to remain stable for an estimated 200 years.

Many professionals could not understand how the tower had not yet toppled before the stabilization efforts began.

70 metric tons of earth was removed from below the northern side of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Leaning Tower Of Pisa

Why Did They Not Completely Straighten The Tower Of Pisa?

If the Leaning Tower Of Pisa was no longer leaning, it would change the character of the monument.

What Is The Pisa Tower Famous For?

The tower is famous for the settling of its foundations. The lean was originally about 15 feet (5.5 degrees). When the engineers took on the straightening attempt starting in 1990, the result was the lean reducing to less than 4 degrees.

It’s All In The Name

The name Pisa means “Marshy Sands”, an indication of why the tower started to tilt during the beginning stages of construction.

It Took 199 Years To Build

It took 199 years until the Leaning Tower of Pisa was finally completed.  Construction started in 1173 but was not finished until 1372. This is in large part due to the construction having to put on hold several times.

The first time construction was halted was due to conflicts between Pisa and Florence, Genoa, and Lucca. Construction resumed in 1272 only to be halted again in 1284 when the Republic of Pisa was defeated by the Genoans in the Battle of Meloria. The final floor of the tower was completed in 1319, but it wasn’t until 1372 when the bell chamber officially completed the tower.

A Widow Paid For The Foundation Stones

Widow Berta of Bernado left 60 gold coins in her will to the Opera Campanilis Petrarum Sancte Marie. The coins were to be used to buy stones to build a tower. These foundation stones were laid, starting the construction of the Tower of Pisa.

These stones still form the base of the tower today!

Why Was The Leaning Tower Constructed?

There was a lot of war and invading of other territories. One of the most successful overtaking was in 1063 when the Pisans overtook Palmero and brought home a lot of fancy treasures. The government and catholic church decided that they needed to create a Miracle Square (Piazza dei Miracoli) to be able to show off the treasures. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was the last addition to this square.

The Towers Lean Shifted

When the tower was having its fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh stories added, the structure started to shift to lean further south. It was previously leaning northward.

Who Was The Original Architect Of The Pisa Tower?

A study showed that Distisalvi, an Italian architect that also designed the Baptistry of Pisa, was the original architect of the Tower of Pisa.

Pisa
Photo: Flickr, Sergio Leenen

The Tower Could Have Been Destroyed In WWII

Once it was discovered that the Germans were using the Pisa Tower as an observation post, US troops considered destroying it with explosives. A 23-year old American Soldier saved the tower from ruin. Weckstein was one of the GIs that was advancing on the Germans who occupied the town. All he had to do was say “This is Able George One. Fire” and the tower would have been blasted to dust. However, fear and the tower’s beauty instead had him refrain from making that call.

Additional Leaning Structures In Pisa

As demonstrated by the Leaning Tower Pisa, the soil in Pisa is not meant for heavy buildings.  In the 12th century, there was not enough knowledge about how to make adjustments to properly build on the soil. This means that there are more leaning structures in Pisa, though the lean is not noticeable.

The bell tower of the Church of St. Nicola and the San Michele Degli Scalzi both have a tilt of around 5 degrees.

Pisa Is Not The Only Place With Leaning Buildings

Germany has also had some battles with bad soil. The Leaning Tower of Suurhusen beats the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is a Gothic Church in northwestern Germany, that is the most leaning unintentionally tilted tower. It has a tilt of 4.99 degrees.

Additional Leaning Tower Of Pisa Facts

  • The original height of the tower was 60m.
  • The actual height of the tower is 56.67m on the highest side and 55.86m on the lowest side.
  • The tower weighs 14,500 tonnes.
  • The Cathedral and Baptistery are also sinking.
  • The outside diameter of the Leaning Tower of Pisa’s base is 15.484 meters.
  • The width of the walls at their base is 2.4384 meters.
  • The tower could still resume tilting – it was estimated that the tower would last 200 years. However, that depends on the forces of nature.
  • The bells are rung twice on Sundays.
  • The Tower, Cathedral, Baptistry, and Cemetery are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

How To Get To Pisa

The easiest way to get to Pisa is by taking the train. Pisa is an hour away from Florence or Cinque Terre, starting at 8,70EUR one way, with trains running every 20 minutes. From Rome, the journey is about 2.5 – 3 hours by high-speed train. A ride on a slower train will take 4 hours. There is an average of 9 trains between the two cities that run daily. Many of the trains go from Rome to Florence, where you then change trains to get to Pisa. Tickets start at 9,00 EUR.

After you arrive in Pisa, it is about a half-hour walk to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Is It Worth Visiting The Leaning Tower Of Pisa?

The Leaning Tower Of Pisa is definitely worth a visit. If anything, make a stop on your way to another destination to see this iconic building. Who knows when you will be in that corner of the world again. If you have the chance, take it!