The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a free standing, or leaning, bell tower located in the northwestern Italian coastal town of Pisa. It is the third oldest of many buildings to make up the Pisa Cathedral square. It became famous as the tower started to lean during construction. Many efforts have been made over many centuries to fix or adjust the lean as well as prevent the tower from completely collapsing. Today, it stands as an iconic monument and tourism is the sole source of income to the historic city.
Construction on the first floor commenced in August of 1173. The ground floor was built using beautiful white marble and columns decorated with classical Corinthian capitals. Construction on the second floor began in 1178, the same time the Tower of Pisa began to lean. Architects of the time didn’t know the ground was too soft and unsuitable for the construction of a massive monument. Construction continued to the third floor, but was left unfinished as the Pisa was involved in many wars with its neighboring towns. Clocks were installed in 1198 on the unfinished third floor before being left unfinished for almost 100 years. When construction on the Leaning Tower of Pisa continued in 1272, architects designed the upper floors with one side taller than the other. This was to compensate for the lean, so the tower actually curves as it gets higher. Engineers believe the century long war actually saved the tower as the ground was able to settle and form a more solid foundation for the Tower of Pisa. In 1284, construction again halted due to wars and feudal Republics. During 1319, the 7th floor was completed and the bell chamber was installed and completed in 1372. The entire construction project took over 344 years to complete, but major wars and compensation redesign for the lean impeded the progress of the project.
There are 8 floors in the Leaning Tower of Pisa, including the bell chamber sitting on top of the tower. There are 7 bells inside the bell chamber representative of the 7 bottom floors of the tower as well as one bell to represent each note of the upper musical scale. The largest bell was installed in 1655, but all have been removed to relieve weight pressure from the top of the tower. During renovations, Italian and local government officials requested the lean be kept in the tower as the monument continues to draw in millions of tourists every year. Currently, the Tower of Pisa has a 3.99 degree lean and had been continually increasing the lean until engineers halted the lean for the first time. During the latest renovations, engineers were able to stabilize the Tower of Pisa by removing 77 tons of dirt underneath the tower. There are 207 decorative columns in and around the tower and 294 stairs. The Tower of Pisa is 186.02 feet tall on the higher side and 183.27 feet on the lower side and is estimated to weigh 14,500 tons. It is a third the height of the Washington Monument.
Today, over 5,000,000 tourists visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa each year. It is an important monument for the city of Pisa as well as an important reminder to the engineering difficulties engineers and architects had to account for when building the beautiful buildings of the past.
Quick Facts & Figures
Construction Start: 1172
Construction Ended: 1372
Location: City of Pisa
Building Style: Romanesque Architecture
Annual Tourists: 1,000,000
Floors: 8 – including bell chamber
Height: 186.02 feet – High Side
Height: 183.27 feet – Low Side
Weight: 14,500 tons
Current Lean: 3.99 degrees