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The leaning tower of Pisa

 

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, within the confines of that incredible medieval enclosure known as Pisa's Field of Miracles or Campo dei Miracoli, is not only one of the most famous of monuments but also one of the most original in the world, absolutely unique in its kind. Its exceptional nature isn't due only to its peculiar inclination because, even if it didn't lean, the Tower of Pisa would still be one of the most remarkable belltowers in Europe.

Its particular alignment was certainly not part of the original plan, even though, in the past, it was believed to have been. The Tower of Pisa was, in fact, intended to be straight but began to lean even as it was being built; this was due to the continual subsidence or weakening of the ground beneath it, a subject of study and intervention to this day.

The ground on which Pisa is built is a flood plain and can't withstand excessive weight. In fact, the leaning tower isn't the only thing that leans in Pisa, there are plenty of buildings all over the city that lean in every direction — palaces, churches, even simple houses.

The Tower's weight is indeed notable: it's an empty cylinder tipping the scales at 14,500 tons, and its width varies. Its base is a good four meters in width then thins out towards the top where it's about half that. The “lean” of the Tower, so characteristic of this building, can easily be measured by the overhang of the horizontal cornices that crown each floor: the highest sticks out 4 meters over the lowest, an inclination of more that 5 degrees.

Construction began on the Tower in 1173, and was probably designed by the sculptor Bonanno Pisano (although noone's absolutely certain the project can be credited to him), and went on for about two hundred years. Despite two long interruptions, the Tower of Pisa was finally finished according to its original plan.

During the two centuries of its construction, many special design features were utilized to deal with the ever-increasing lean: many columns and other weakened parts were replaced in an endless struggle between man and Tower that continues even today. In fact, in the attempt to guarantee it a long life, over the last several years work is going ahead with the aim of recompacting the terrain beneath the building to significantly reduce the Tower's inclination.

The leaning tower of Pisa is the belltower of the Duomo but its position is singular: in fact, it isn't placed next to the Duomo's facade as would be usual but is instead set apart from it. At any rate, it's not by chance that it's placed in the most visible point of the piazza, at the intersection of two of the most ancient streets of the city: Via Santa Maria and Via Emilia that proceeds towards the Duomo.

From here, the Tower rises 56 meters high and is visible not only from anywhere in the piazza but even from the River Arno. It was a sort of lighthouse, a reference point between the city and the piazza. It was also, naturally, a symbol of the moral and civil virtues of the entire community.

A legend tied to the Tower of Pisa concerns the astronomer Galileo who, to demonstrate his law regarding falling weights, climbed to the top and is supposed to have dropped objects of differing materials to verify the truth of his theories.

Externally, the Tower demonstrates the same magnificent version of Pisan Romanic architecture as the Duomo and Baptistery: the two-color marble surfacing of the walls, the blind archways and the characteristic superimposition of the galleries and window arches that lighten the overall volume, creating magnificent chiaroscuro effects. Inside there is a spiral staircase formed of 294 steps that reaches all the way to the belfry at the top.

Of lesser diameter, this last level of the building is very evident from the rest of the structure. It was added in 1350 after a pause in construction of almost a century. It's the work of Tommaso Pisano, third and final architect responsible for the works.

It's from here, from the top of the Tower of Pisa, that one can better understand the special harmony of the entire complex: the cathedral, baptistery and belltower, united in a fantastic play of contrasts, seem to converse with each other in a magical equilibrium between the white of the marble and the green of the surrounding lawns.

The official website of the leaning tower is: https://www.opapisa.it