The Leaning Tower of Pisa, known for its characteristic tilt, is not only one of the most recognizable buildings the world, but also one of the most stunning examples of Romanesque architecture. Completed in 1372, the architect and constructers had no idea that the ground on one side of the foundation would be too soft to allow an adequate and firm foundation. Consequentially the characteristic leaning had already begun during the 200 years it took to complete construction. Luckily by the late 20th Century stabilization of the structure allowed it to stop its gradual tilting which would have been its ultimate destruction.
The top of the tower is currently 12 feet and 10 inches from where it should have been, giving the tower a 3.99 degree lean. Although this must have been a major frustration for the construction workers at the time, it is this very unique and interesting characteristic that has led the tower to gain its worldwide fame – making it one of the most popular and visited attractions in Italy.
Made out of marble and stone and consisting of 296 steps to the top of the tower, it was original built as part of a Roman Catholic complex – consisting of the tower, a Cathedral and a Baptistery. It was completed in three stages: work on the ground floor of the white marble campanile started in 1173. This floor is a blind arcade with engaged columns, adorned with classical Corinthian capitals or “heads.” The first sinking appeared after the second floor was under construction starting in 1178. This sinking was inevitable due to the unstable subsoil that is present. The result was a halt in construction for more than 100 years, with the Republic of Pisa almost constantly in battle with Genoa, Lucca and Florence. This halt in construction was however a blessing in disguise, for it allowed the soil adequate time to settle and become less unstable, which would otherwise have definitely topples the tower.
Construction resumed in 1272 with the ingenuity of new engineering that tried to hoodwink the tilt. The upper floors constructed during this time were built with one side taller than the other to allow the appearance of a more balanced tower, yet in fact gave the tower a slight curve. Another conflict, this time when the Pisans were defeated by the Genoans, left construction once again in a hiatus. The seventh floor was subsequently completed in 1319, leaving the bell-chamber to be the last addition to be added in 1372 – thereby successfully mixing both the Gothic elements of the bell-chamber with the Romanesque influences of the tower.
The result is a stunning and impressive example of both human ingenuity and artistic expression – the ability of humankind to make an error, yet artistically and beautifully remastering it and changing it into a landmark of modern science. And of course, who would not want to visit the site of Galileo’s most famous experiment: the experiment that allowed him to postulate and prove the fixed relation of descent and mass – an experiment executed through the dropping two balls from atop the tower!