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Architectural sins of the past have seldom achieved such positive fame as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Built on the alluvial land of the former lagoon, the tower already began to sink during its construction. Building was suspended and only 100 years later did the next master builder dare to continue with the project – without ever being able to stop or even correct the imbalance.
At nearly 57 metres high, the Campanile (bell tower) is said to have been perfectly straight when it was handed over to the city fathers. Only when they tried to take advantage of the master builder did the tower start to lean. We now know that the Leaning Tower should never have been built where it is. The ground was simply too soft, yielding under the enormous weight (an estimated 14,450 tonnes). The tower leans so much that, according to calculations, it would have collapsed around the year 2000 if it had not been closed for ten years in the 1990s for renovation. Glimmering in the magnificent white Carrara marble from which it was built, the bell tower is still startlingly lopsided today but no longer in danger of collapsing.
Of course, this architectural anomaly is today the inspiration for all manner of bizarre photos and almost acrobatic selfies. Sometimes it’s just as entertaining to watch the tourists twisting and turning as to climb the tower itself.
Those who prefer it a little quieter should rise early to visit the Campo dei Miracoli and its Leaning Tower, the Baptistery, the Cathedral of Pisa (Santa Maria Assunta) and the Camposanto Monumentale. The square is just as atmospheric at night. An interesting aside: The subsidence in the subsoil is affecting not only the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but also the Baptistery and the Cathedral.
In its often forgotten capacity as a freestanding bell tower, the Leaning Tower not only welcomes countless tourists every year, but also houses seven historic bells – one for each note of the scale, with wonderfully sonorous names: Assunta (the biggest bell), Crocifisso, San Ranieri, Dal Pozzo, Pasquereccia, Terza and Vespruccio. Given the slant of the tower, the bells are no longer rung today but often only struck with hammers. This is nonetheless a marvellous spectacle at noon or before mass.