Little Bits of History

February 27

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 27, 2017

1964: Italy requests help to save an iconic landmark. The Torre di Pisa, or as we call it, the Tower of Pisa, has been leaning since before it was even fully constructed. The freestanding bell tower is part of the cathedral built in the Italian city and known worldwide for its distinctive tilt. It is the third oldest structure in Pisa’s Cathedral Square with only the Cathedral itself and the Pisa Baptistry older. Groundbreaking took place in 1173 but there was inadequate foundation for the structure. The ground on one side was too soft to support the weight of the tower.

It took 199 years to built the tower. Work began during a period of military success and therefore, local prosperity. When the work on the second floor began, the tower began its slow and inexorable tilt. The structure,  which eventually rose 184 feet into the sky, was built on just a ten foot deep foundation set into unstable subsoil. After the tilt began, construction was halted for nearly a century partly because the area was involved in several battles/wars and partly because new idea were needed to stop the tilt. If the building had been continued uninterrupted, the tower would have toppled for sure. The settling of the subsoil gave it some chance to remain standing.

When building began again, the idea to stop the lean was to build the rest of the floors with one side taller than the other. The tower itself is therefore, bent. Construction work continued apace until once again, war intervened. The seventh floor was completed in 1319 and the bell chamber was finally added in 1372. There are seven bells in the tower, one for each major tone and the last was installed in 1655. Since its completion, many attempts have been made to keep the tower from complete collapse. On this day, the government requested the help from the world to preserve the landmark, but to keep its distinctive tilt.

A multinational task force was formed to work on the problem. Engineers, mathematicians, and historians gathered together to preserve all aspects of the UNESCO Historical tower. The softer ground on one side remained a considerable problem and many solutions were proposed. It was decided to add 800 tons of lead counterweight to the raised end of the base. The bells were also removed to help lessen the weight. A third measure, removing 1,342 cubic feet of soil from underneath the raised end, was done after cables were placed at the third level and anchored to hold the tower in place. The tower was successfully straightened by 17.7 inches and returned to the 1838 position. In 2008, it was announced the stabilization was so successful for the first time in history, the tower has stopped moving.

I’ve been to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s a tower, and it’s leaning. You look at it, but nothing happens, so then you look for someplace to get a sandwich. – Danny DeVito

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility. – Saint Augustine

Be as a tower firmly set; Shakes not its top for any blast that blows. – Dante Alighieri

The whole imposing edifice of modern medicine is like the celebrated tower of Pisa – slightly off balance. – Prince Charles

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