Pisa is well-known for its Leaning Tower, one of the most photographed buildings in Italy together with the Colosseum in Rome. This fascinating monument has started a ritual among tourists, who love to play with perspective and take pictures pretending to hold the tower or kick it like a punching box. But why is the Tower tipping? The secrets of this monuments are many: here’s 5 curiosities about Pisa’s tower you may didn’t know!
Who built the tower?
This is a mystery that has remained unsolved. Vasari, author of Brunelleschi’s dome paintings in Florence, attributed the construction to Bonanno Pisano in 1173, but other people think it was Gherardi’s work. Other experts found documents with the name of the architect Diotisalvi, who was following the works of the Baptistery by that time. The question remains open, the only thing we know for sure is that the construction took almost 200 years!
Why is the Tower leaning?
During the 9th century it was believed that the leaning was due to stylistic choices, but the truth is another one. The leaning is indeed caused by the soil, mostly made of sand, clay, and deposits from the Tuscan rivers Arno and Serchio, which were too unstable to support the building even in the early stages of its construction. After the first two floors were built, indeed, the ground began to collapse. When construction resumed in 1272, the additional developments did not exactly help the Tower’s posture. The stacking of additional stories atop the existing three jostled the building’s center of gravity, causing a reversal in the direction of its tilt. As the tower accrued its fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh stories, the once northward-leaning structure began to tip further and further south.
As time passed, the ground only further weakened beneath the Tower’s heft. An early 0.2 degree tilt increased gradually over the centuries, reaching 5.5 degrees by 1990. Over the next decade, a team of engineers leveled the soil beneath the tower and introduced anchoring mechanisms to rectify the nearly catastrophic lean. The project allotted the tower a more secure stance, but it did not prevent continued tipping. Balance was reached in 2008, stopping the tower from leaning for the first time: the leaning is today stated at 3.9 degrees!
The Traitor bell
The belfry hosts seven bells, representing the seven musical notes. The San Ranieri one, associated to the note D, was called “Justice” or Traitor Bell because it rang every time a traitor was condemned to death. It is said that this bell rang also when Conte Ugolino, the famous character of Dante’s hell, was left to starve together with his sons in Gualandi’s tower.
Every bell has a name
Every bell has its own name, the biggest one is the Assunta’s bell, which weights 2600 kg. The others are named Crocifisso, San Ranieri, Dal Pozzo, Pasquereccia - the most ancient bell - Terza and Vespruccio. In the past every bell was associated with a liturgical moment. Terza, for example, was rang during the third hour of the day, while Vespruccio at 6 pm. Pasquereccia, on the other side, was rang during Easter time. Today you can hear the bells before every Mass and at midday, but they are electronic.
There are more leaning towers
Pisa’s belfry in not the only tower tipping! Other examples can be found in China - the Tiger hill Pagoda - in Ireland - the Kilmacduagh monastery - in Russia - the leaning tower of Nevyansk - in Germany - the tower of Suurhusen and many others. Pisa has other leaning towers too! Take a walk to San Nicola’s or to San Michele degli Scalzi’s church and have a look at their bell towers: they’re leaning too, the last one even more than the famous one!
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