• Ankitha Prakash

Experiencing the lean of The Leaning tower of Pisa: Pisa, Italy, 2017

Anyone who wants to visit this place should first be aware of the history about this miraculous marshy land for taking pride on placing your feet on such a wonder. In ancient greek, Pisa literally means marshy land. Being a former swamp, the subsoil is extremely shifty and cannot withstand heavy loads. Constructions on such a land is practically not so easy and hence not preferred much unless it has a rock solid foundation. This is the reason the name for Pisa's Piazza del Duomo consisting of the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry, the Campanile or the bell tower, and the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery) is called the Field of Miracles, which is truly apt!

How to get there:

It is quite an easy walk from the Pisa train station to this square (around 15 minutes). But I highly recommend you to take your time going around the city before you get to this square because once you are here, you get totally absorbed by the beauty and will end up exhausting your whole time never wanting to leave 😅

While roaming around the city make sure you visit the Ponte di Mezzo, which is just beside the train station. This is the bridge that is built across the Arno river. This is the same river on which Ponte Vecchio is constructed as mentioned in my other blog on Florence. In fact, the Arno river originates on Monte Falterona in the Casentino area of the Apennines, and initially takes a southward curve then turns to the west near Arezzo passing through Florence, Empolia nd Pisa, flowing into the Tyrrhenian Sea at Marina di Pisa.

After a nice slow walk around the city, I finally get to be a part of the club of being lucky enough to step on the World famous,"Field of Miracles".

📍 Piazza dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles)

Being the UNESCO's World Heritage Site since 1987, Piazza del duomo, the formal name for the Piazza dei Miracoli or the Field of Miracles is a walled 8.87-hectare area located in Pisa, Tuscany, Italy. This is the most recognised centre of European medieval art and one of the finest architectural complexes in the world. The entrance to this field is through an entrance in the wall called the Saint Mary's Gate. This gate provides a natural frame for a photo of all the buildings on the Field of Miracles.

Piazza dei Miracoli was given by the Italain writer and poet Gabriele d'Annunzio. He mentioned the square as the "prato dei Miracoli", or "meadow of miracles" in his novel Forse che sì forse che no (1910).

📍 Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale di Santa Maria Assunta (Duomo di Pisa or The Pisa Cathedral)

Located in the Piazza dei Miracoli, this Roman cathedral is a notable example of Romanesque architecture. This Pisan Romanesque is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The bell tower of this church, the Leaning tower of Pisa, is the prime reason behind its immense popularity.

📍 The Campanile (The bell tower)

This 57m tall and freestanding Romanesque styled bell tower famously known as "The Leaning tower of Pisa" is considered as a huge miracle that never collapsed considering the fact it sits just on a 3m deep foundation support surrounded by a soggy ground which is totally unstable for a 14,500 tons of marble stone weight falling on it. Being a Civil Engineer, I find it practically impossible and know why it is indeed a miracle! It took about 344 years to complete its construction due to the constant failures it showed. This tower has approximately 294 steps on the north side and 296 steps on the south side. I cannot stop myself from sharing some technical details here! This tower stability is totally judged based on the laws of physics. Its centre of mass is about the fourth floor and the tower remains safe only if this centre of mass lies about the base of the tower. Even if it moves a bit outside, it will lead to a huge disaster by collapsing. Based on the calculations, it was estimated to collapse when it is tilted by 5.44 degrees but due to many brutal remedies the tilt was already 5.5 degrees by the year 1990 and no one knew why it didn't collapse. This led to a panic situation where the huge decision was made to close this place for the public. Apart from the overall failure which is its collapse it also had to deal with many other issues. The walls of this tower are not truly solid marble but a mixture of materials used to lower the construction cost, which made it less stronger and could have exploded even before the collapse. Also, the pillars around each floor could break unable to sustain its loads. Anyway the final solution was obtained by going against the idea of putting stress on the soil, which was not any of the solutions tried so far. It was achieved by digging out the clay lying beneath the non-tilted side of the tower. This wonderful idea took almost a decade so as to carry the undermining but fetched a fruitful result by reducing the tilt to 4 degrees and that's when it was considered stable and reopened for the public in the year 2001. Even after so many possibilities to fail and fall, it still stands so strong and justifies why it's called a miracle!

After watching it so close I couldn't wait to be the lucky one to get on top of it! I booked a guided tour to know each of the tower's details and that really helped me to know a lot. I would strongly recommend you to book one. Another thrilling experience when climbing this was everytime you go around the tower to get to the top, you get to experience its lean.

The famous bell of the bell tower 🔔

AND, this view from the top 😍 Everything you see from here looks like it's leaning! The only thought came to my mind after watching this view is about the human thinking. Like a person looks at the world only from his/her own perspective. If the person is a pessimist, everything around seems bad or if the person is an optimist then it's all in terms of good perspective. I really learned a lot from this tower!

Cannot miss this view of the city from the other side of the tower!

This visit was even "more special" to me and so close to my heart as the topic "Consolidation of Structures" is what I am studying in my doctoral degree research. In fact, I have started my study by understanding the lean of this structure. I was truly fascinated to know that the term "Consolidation" used in structural engineering was originated after this tower's settlement. For people who are not so aware of this technical term, it means settlement of a structure lying in a weak soil stratum unable to fully withstand the loads falling on it through the designed foundation. Even after so many technical failures, this leaning tower of Pisa is a perfect example of the saying "NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE". It definitely outlived its failures and guides us to never give up! After being so closely related and attached, all I did when I met this beauty was to hug and kiss ❤️❤️❤️