Campo dei Miracoli

Field of Miracles

Tuesday May 3, 2005

Leaning Tower
Photo by Gertrude Meyer

Torre pendente di Pisa

The litteral translation would be the Hanging Tower of Pisa.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is the campanile (bell tower) of the cathedral complex.
Is this what you came to see?

The height of the tower is 180 feet, and to reach the top you will climb 294 steps. It is estimated to weigh 14,500 tons. The current inclination is about 5.5 degrees. Construction began on August 9, 1173. After the third floor was built in 1178, the tower acquired a lean and construction was stopped for a century. In 1272, they built another four floors at an angle to compensate for the tilt. Construction again stopped. The last floor was built and the bell installed in 1372.

Galileo Galilei is said to have dropped two cannon balls of different masses from this tower to demonstrate their descending speed was independent of their mass. Some doubt that story.

Photo by Gertrude Meyer

The Bapistry

The round Romanesque building was begun in the mid 12th century by an architect known as Deotisalvi ("God Save You"). It was not finished until a century later, when the top stories and dome were added in Gothic style by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. It is the largest baptistery in Italy, 180 feet tall, and older than its more famous, leaning neighbor.

Campo Santo-CathedralComplex-050305
Photo by Gertrude Meyer

The Duomo
is one of the largest and best Romanesque churches in the world, with its alternate bands of dark-green and cream marble. Art historians rave about the west front, bronze doors, 68 classical columns and mosaic decoration.

So, why does the Leaning Tower lean?

No, it was not built that way to attract visitors to the city. The Field of Miracles, a level green lawn, is well-named, mainly for because the Leaning Tower is still standing on what 10,000 years ago was a river estuary. The river had dried up by Roman times, but the sandy soil remained, providing a frighteningly unstable platform on which to build the tower, cathedral, and other buildings.

Specialists have uncovered traces of Etruscan, Roman, and Lombard settlements throughout the piazza, but no remains of buildings known to have been built there after the Tower went up. Why? Archaeologists long theorized that when Pisans gave the so-called Campo dei Miracoli its final layout, they must have removed up to three feet of topsoil, in part to reveal more of the tower, whose base had sunk beneath the ground surface. Actually, some archival sleuth uncovered a centuries-old receipt acknowledging the sale of soil from the field.

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