One of the most iconic landmarks in the world, the Tower of Pisa attracts more than five million visitors every year. While it might look like one of the world’s most structurally unsound buildings in the world, you can climb its 294 steps right to the top too. At 55 metres (183-foot) tall, it’s an impressive sight, even without its tilt. But how long did it take to build the Leaning Tower of Pisa and why does it lean? We’ve answered your questions.
How long did it take to build the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
1. When was the Leaning Tower of Pisa built?
Local authorities had floated the idea of building a beautiful bell tower to accompany Pisa Cathedral for decades before it was signed off. Work began in 1173, but it got off to a slow and sporadic start. As Pisa warred with neighbouring Florence, Genoa and other powerful city-states, construction stopped and started. Debt (as well as time spent trying to correct its lean) also slowed down the process. It took close to two centuries to complete work, which was finally completed in 1372.
2. Who built the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
We can’t be sure of the architect of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. For years, most people attributed the design to Guglielmo and Bonanno Pisa, renowned for his bronze casting in the Pisa Duomo. In 1820, local researchers even found a piece of cast bearing his name at the foot of the tower, which supported the theory. But recent studies claim that he left Pisa in 1185 for Monreale in Sicily, so the dates don’t quite match up. According to this new research, Diotisalvi – another prominent architect – likely built the tower. However, we do know that Giovani di Simone worked on the second phase of construction in 1275 and that Tommaso Pisano completed the structure in the fourteenth century.
3. What was the Leaning Tower of Pisa used for?
In the 12th century, Pisa transformed from an unnotable seaport to a regional powerhouse. When Pisa conquered Palermo in Sicily in 1063, the city gained staggering wealth. Its military, commercial and political importance accelerated. To showcase its power and treasures, the city built the grand cathedral complex and included plans for the tallest bell tower of its time, now the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
During World War II, the Germans used the tower as a lookout. According to veteran Leon Weckstein in “Through My Eyes: 91st Infantry Division in the Italian Campaign, 1942-45“, the allies were charged with demolishing the building in 1944 but were too bewitched by its beauty to bomb it. Weckstein says: “I yearned to blow it to smithereens, but as yet I had seen nothing move. Seconds turned to minutes and still, he could not do it. The hypnotic spell had not been broken after all. The tower, the neighbouring cathedral and baptistry, were too beautiful”. It seems its good looks saved it.
4. What is the Leaning Tower of Pisa made from?
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is made from more than 14,000 tons of white marble, harvested from various Mediterranean locations, Africa and Turkey. Engineers used limestone in less visible sections to save on costs too.
5. When did the tower start leaning?
The Tower of Pisa has always been a bit wonky. When engineers first started working on the structure in the late 12th century, they were stumped by its seemingly sinking appearance. They tried to fix the issue by adding taller columns and arches to the south side of the tower, which resulted in a curving of the structure.
Over the centuries, dozens of attempts have been made to rectify its lean. Even Benito Mussolini, the 20th-century dictator, who reportedly hated the Tower of Pisa, gave it ago. He saw the wonky tower as a national embarrassment, a symbol of shoddy craftsmanship and a wholly inappropriate national ambassador for such a masculine regime. He had hundreds of holes drilled into its base and pumped 200 tons of concrete into the tower to stabilise the bottom. It ended up making the base heavier and the tower lurched another few inches south.
6. Why does the tower lean?
The iconic landmark was always destinated to lean thanks to its shallow foundations – engineers only dug three metres into the ground. The land here is also soft and marshy (Pisa actually means “marshy land” in Greek), so it’s little wonder why it started to sink.
7. How wonky is the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
Today, the tower has a four-degree lean and is more than five metres off perpendicular. Happily, though, engineers declared the tower stable in 2001 for another 200 years. In 2008, they confirmed that the tower is no longer moving.