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Tower of Pisa| ©Kuobo/Flickr
Tower of Pisa| ©Kuobo/Flickr

The Story Behind the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Picture of Francesca Masotti
Updated: 27 September 2017

Torre Pendente of Pisa, the leaning tower, is one of the most recognizable buildings in Italy and the world. If you are traveling to Pisa, you need to include this place on your tour. But before visiting it, you should learn more about its fascinating story and understand why it looks how it does.

The construction of the white marble leaning tower began in August 1173 for the cathedral complex of Pisa. It was interrupted several times in the following years by wars and engineering problems. Day by day, the structure began to lean but the delay allowed the foundation to settle further and likely prevented the tower’s premature collapse. When construction continued, the engineer Giovanni di Simone tried to compensate for the lean by adding extra bricks to the short side, but the additional weight caused the structure to tilt even further.

The tower was finally completed around 1370, but its lean increased over the next six centuries, becoming the reason why the bell-tower is so famous all over the world. Despite several attempts to reinforce it, Pisa’s tower continued to subside every year and in the ’90s, it was closed to visitors and engineers started reparations to stabilize it. Due to the soft subsoil of the entire Pisan area, there are actually three leaning towers in Pisa. If you have extra time, you can see the bell-tower of the Church of San Nicola in Borgo Stretto and the bell-tower of the Church of San Michele degli Scalzi, located in Viale delle Piagge, a green area outside the city center.

Historians can’t say for sure who the builder of the tower was. In 1820, a piece of cast was found at the base of the tower with the name of Bonanno Pisano written on it. He was an artist residing in Pisa in the 12th century and he may be the architect of the tower, but there is no certainty. Another 12th century architect, Diotisalvi, could be the master of the tower but he usually signs his works and there is no signature by him in the tower. He may be part of the tower’s engineering idea, especially because he worked on other buildings in Pisa in those years. What is sure is that Giovanni di Simone helped to complete the tower’s construction.

Now, the most famous Italian building is open to visitors. Since its restoration, the structure’s integrity is constantly monitored by experts and the torre hosts a large numbers of visitors enchanted by its peculiar architecture every day. If you want to climb to the top of the tower (and obviously you have to do that), you should book tickets in advance to avoid lines (it costs a bit more but it’s totally worth it).

From the very top of the bell-tower, it is possible to admire one of the greatest panoramas you’ll see in Italy – the city of Pisa below, with its red rooftops and in the distance the Tyrrenian Sea. Every country has its must-see landmarks and even though Italy has countless, the leaning tower is perhaps one of the most famous and no trip in Italy is complete without a visit to it.