“Hey, have you heard the news? Guess what? You’re never going to believe this – the Leaning Tower of Pisa has fallen down!”, I exclaimed down the phone, to a half-asleep friend who had just been woken up by my phone call.
“Oh, but that’s awful”, he said, trying to take it in, and regretting the fact that he had never been to see it. This somewhat shattering news was starting to wake him up.
“By the way, David”, I said, “Would you just have a look at your paper for me?”. I heard him shuffle off to get the daily newspaper, which lay on the mat, and then came sleepily back to the phone.
“What’s today’s date?”, I asked.
“Let me see … April 1st … ”, then followed a pause as the realisation set in, “Oh, no!”.
Yes, I got a lot of people with that one that year. At least, David realised that he most likely one day would get to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and, with its current stability, so will you. It’s going to be around for a long time.
Having alerted you to today’s date, and all it implies, I hope that you safely make it through to noon. Meanwhile, I have gathered together ten facts about La Torre di Pisa which I am sure will make you consider a visit.
1. Pisa itself is a beautiful Italian town, on the Arno River where it flows into the Ligurian Sea. Its architecture is a complete delight, and it has the quiet, laid-back feeling of a town.
2. Pisa and its Leaning Tower are in the beautiful province of Tuscany, renowned for its sunshine, fine wine, good food, lovely people and gorgeous countryside.
3. The Leaning Tower is in an area known as Piazza dei Miracoli, meaning “Square of Miracles”, which is to the north of the old town centre, and which contains a number of important works of art and architecture, including theDuomo, (Pisa Cathedral), the Baptistry, and the Camposanto (the monumental cemetery). Just to stroll around the Piazza itself is a real treat.
4. The tower is actually the campanile of Pisa Cathedral. What’s a campanile? A free-standing bell tower, of course! And as such, the Tower has seven bells.
5. It is known that the foundations of the Tower were laid in 1173, but, oddly, people seem less sure as to who was the architect of the Tower. It was once thought to be Bonanno Pisano, a well-known artist of Pisa, famous for his bronze work, and more recently experts have suggested Diotisalvi, due to the Tower’s similarity to his known works. So, it looks as though the jury is still out on that one.
6. The height of the tower is 55.86 m (183.27 ft) from the ground on its lowest side and 56.70 m (186.02 ft) on the highest side. The tower has 296 or 294 steps. Why the discrepancy? The seventh floor has two less steps on the north-facing staircase. The tower leans at an angle of 3.97 degrees, meaning that the top of the tower is 3.9 meters from where it would stand if the tower were perfectly vertical.
7. So why did the Tower start to lean almost directly after it was built? Because it is built on soft sedimentary rock, and, apparently, the foundations weren’t laid that well. However, by gradually excavating earth from under the foundations, and placing lead weights on the north side of the tower, the tilt has been somewhat corrected. After eight centuries of the Tower tilting steadily to the south, engineers have finally moved it back 45 centimetres (17 inches) and got it stable.
8. It is said that Galileo Galilei dropped two cannon balls of different masses from the tower to demonstrate that their descending speed was independent of their mass. This is an apocryphal tale, and the only source for it comes from Galileo’s secretary – but, heck, we all love a good story.
9. For you fitness freaks, going up the Tower will be one of those challenges that you love. You have to be pretty fit to get up to the top, as it is rather disorienting going up the spiral staircase of a tower that is leaning. Don’t worry if you’re not fit – the Tower is an amazing spectacle from the ground anyway.
10. Pisa even has its own small airport – Pisa International Airport Galileo Galilei. The cafe there is great – good coffee. There is a railway station at the airport to take you into Central Pisa, or even on to Florence, so forget the hire car.
I hope that those are enough reasons to visit Pisa and La Torre di Pisa. I also hope that April 1st dealt kindly with you …