11 Facts You Didn’t Know About The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Written by : Ryan Coombes | November 19, 2019

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the most recognisable buildings in the world.
The unmistakable tilting tower has an interesting history that includes engineering mishaps. If you’ve ever wondered how this tower ended up lopsided, check out our list of things you didn’t know about the Leaning Tower of Pisa

1. The tower was built as a status symbol.

Close-up of the Leaning Tower

Once a small seaport, Pisa’s Military, commercial and political importance began to grow during the 12th century. This now prosperous city did like many others and began to construct lavish buildings to display it’s wealth and power.
After sacking Palermo in 1063, they decided they needed a place to display the treasures that returned from Sicily. This lead to the construction of the “Field of Miracles”. This would become the home of Pisa’s Cathedral, Cemetery, Baptistery and, What was to be to tallest bell tower of it’s age. The Tower of Pisa.

2. The lean wasn’t planned and didn’t happen immediately.

The city of Pisa was built upon marshy land, infact name “Pisa” derives from the greek word for “Marshy Land”. Despite this, The architects didn’t take the subsoil into consideration when they started to build the bell tower.
They gave the tower a shallow and heavy foundation which would cause problems for them later on. Once they began to construct the second story, the structure began to sink on one side and it was too late to start over.

To try and correct this blunder, they tried to add taller columns and arches onthe southern side of the tower to balance it out.
They planned 8 stories but when they reached the fourth they had to make the arches on the south side two inches taller than on the north. It was clear at this point the lean was not going to be corrected this easily.
They eventually halted constructured and did’nt resume for almost a century.

3. Pisa has many leaning towers.

Pisa being an area of soft subsoil means there are several leaning towers in Pisa. The bell tower of the Church of St. Nicola is perhaps the most famous after the Leaning Tower of Pisa we all know today. Built around the same time as the tower, in 1170, this octagonal bell has a slight lean to it. You can also see the bell tower at the church of St. Michele dei Scalzi.

Day Trip to Pisa from Florence

4. The tower has leaned in different directions

Engineers have attempted to correct the towers lean over the centuries. When the third story construction began in the 13th century, engineers tried to stop the lean by building directly upwards. This shifted the centre of gravity and the tower began to lean in a different direction. Despite this, the tower eventually returned to its southwards tilt and has remained there since.

5. The lean creates some interesting imbalances

The leaning tower of Pisa was supposed to be 60 meters tall (196.85 feet). After the lean, however, the highest side of the tower reaches a mere 56.67 meters  (about 186 feet), while the lowest side is 55.86m, or 183 feet.

By 1990 the tower had reached a tilt of 5.5 degrees – nearly 15 feet from its base and enough to topple it over by most calculations! Luckily, this considerable tilt was enough to overcome the world-famous inertia of Italian bureaucracy and kick start a massive restoration program that reduced the tilt to *only* 3.97 degrees. Because of the tower’s original list, the north side staircase has something like 296 steps to the top, while the south side has just 294.

6. War and debt may have saved the tower from toppling

War and debt may been the reasons for it’s survival. These two factors caused long delays in the towers construction which lasted over 200 years. Some engineers theorise that these delays allowed the soil beneath the tower to compress and save it from completely toppling over.

7. You can climb to the top of the tower

Who would have guessed that the worlds famous, structurally unsound building is open to visitors. Ever since the tower went through restoration and have it’s tilt corrected slightly it’s been open for visitors. However, the structure’s integrity is monitored constantly to ensure it’s safe and welcomes large numbers of visitors every day. If you’d like to climb the tower, we’d recommend to book tickets in advance.

8. The towers 7 bells haven’t rung since the last century.

Each of the towers bells represents a musical note from the major scale and the largest weighs near 8,000 pounds! You can still see the bells if you climb the tower today but no one has heard them ring since the 20th century.

They’ve not been rung for just one reason, engineers are concerned the weight and movement of these bells could worsen the lean of the tower.

9. Mussolini hated the Leaning Tower and tried to correct the lean.

Benito Mussolini, The dictator of Italy, was deeply ashamed of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and considered it’s poor construction an embarrassment to Italy. He set out to fix the lean on the tower, an effort that resulted in complete failure.

His plan, was to drill hundreds of small holes into the base of the tower to pump in more grout and mortar to help set it straight. This gave the tower a heavier base and actually increased the lean of the tower.

Day Trip to Pisa from Florence

10. During WWII The Allies had orders to destroy the Tower

American soldiers had orders to destroy any buildings that could potentially be used as a lookout or “nest” during World War Two. The Learning Tower was in fact used as a German lookout during the war, so why wasn’t the area levelled?
Apparently the Allied forces were so impressed by the beauty of this area and the Field of Miracles they decided they could not damage the area.

11. The tower in currently stable

Despite many misguided attempts to correct the learn and various engineering mishaps. In 2001 the stable for officially declared stable and expected to be secure for atleast 200 years. Engineers discovered in 2008 that the tower is no longer moving, which is the first time since it’s construction started!

As a bonus, one of the “projects” involving the tower was to dig around it to open an underground tour. This poorly thought out idea only allowed the area to fill with more water and cause further instability.

Tours & Accommodation

We also have a range of great tours available in Pisa, both Private and Small Group tours. Click the link below and feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Be sure to also check out some accommodation using the search bar below, there are some great deals available!

Ryan Coombes  

Welsh-Italian who moved to Italy, in the heart of Rome to work in Tourism. A passion for travel with a biased preference for Italy..and Greece.

Published on : November 19, 2019
Posted in : Pisa