The beautiful country of Italy is home to many unique and well known buildings with the Leaning Tower of Pisa being among the most iconic. As Deb & I left Cinque Terre and headed to the Amalfi coast for a few days in Positano we made it a point to stop and visit the Leaning Tower.
Pisa is a coastal city of over 90,000 people in the famous Italian region of Tuscany. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a free standing bell tower, or campanile, of the Pisa Cathedral. The partially walled grounds of the cathedral have three primary buildings; the cathedral, the baptistery and the campanile. As we approached one of the gateways to the campus we experienced our first glimpse the Leaning Tower. One of the many joys of travel is the feeling engendered when seeing an iconic landscape or building in person for the first time and this image captures that moment with the famous bell tower.
The tower is ~185 feet high and took many many years to complete. The tilting of the tower began to occur during its initial construction primarily due the sandy ground on one side of the tower being too soft to support the extreme weight of the structure (14,500 metric tons).
The walls at the base of the tower are made of solid white marble and are an incredible eight feet thick in order to create a sufficient support on which to build the seven stories above. Unfortunately, the ground below didn’t do as well! It’s hard to believe that the below grade foundation is only ten feet deep for a structure that is almost 200′ high. Certainly the design of the tower was flawed from the outset.
Construction of the tower began on August 14, 1173 and wasn’t completed until 1372 when the bell chamber was finished atop the tower 199 years after the ground breaking. Recent cleaning and surface restoration of the tower removed centuries of dirt & grime from the industrial revolution which had darkened the tower to a dirty grey colour. This next image shows the beautiful white sunlit marble against a stormy dark back ground. It really is a beautiful structure.
By 1990 the tower’s lean reached 5.5° and the campanile was closed to the public. Steel guy wires were attached to the third level, the seven bells were removed from the bell chamber and nearby apartment buildings were evacuated due to fear of spontaneous toppling of the tower. Between 1990-2001 the tower was straightened and stabilized. This was accomplished by removing 1350 cubic feet (77 tons) of earth from below the high side of the foundation. This restored the lean of the tower to about 3.9° which it was in the late nineteenth century. The decision was made not to place the tower in a vertical orientation largely due to tourism considerations. Its present lean means that the centre point at the top of the tower is 12’10” from the centre point at the base.
Although this next image has not been manipulated, it was taken at a focal length of 16mm on a full frame camera and the native optics of the lens creates an exaggerated perspective of the tower.
The Pisa Cathedral is an impressive structure in its own right, designed in the shape of a latin cross and constructed of white & grey marble. The cathedral began construction in 1063 and was completed in 1092.
It’s hard to believe when walking through the campus that these buildings are almost one thousand years old.
The third major building on the cathedral grounds is the baptistery. It was the second structure chronologically, with construction starting in 1152 and completed in 1363, two hundred and eleven years later. The Pisa Baptistery is the largest in Italy and like the adjacent structures is constructed of marble. The interesting thing to note when looking at the baptistery is the different architectural styles of the building, presumably a result of the 200+ years it took to build. The base of the building is in Roman styling with rounded arches above the columns while the upper sections of the building are of gothic styling with pointed arches atop the columns.
The baptistery also has a relatively small foundation and shares the sandy earth of the cathedral & bell tower so it also leans, however an almost imperceptible 0.6° towards the cathedral.
Although we only spent a few hours visiting Pisa, it was a great time and a pleasure to see and learn a little about its iconic landmark.
Deb & I couldn’t help taking some classic tourist shots of the tower while we were there. As a photographer, one always looks for that ‘original shot’, especially of the well known landmarks…..I’m quite certain these next two images don’t qualify 🙂
Other images from Pisa can be seen by clicking on this link plus there are a number of other galleries from various locations in Europe that are also posted on the website.
All of the images in this post were taken using a Canon 5D Mk III and EF 16-35 f2.8 wide angle zoom lens.
Thanks for taking the time to read through this post and I trust you’ve enjoyed the Leaning Tower of Pisa. As always you comments and questions are much appreciated.