Like the Coliseum in Rome or the canals of Venice, one of the most popular images that comes to mind when you think of Italy is probably the leaning Tower of Pisa. Join Wonderopolis on a trek to Italy as we take a closer look at this unique cultural icon.

At the heart of the city of Pisa, Italy, lies the Piazza del Duomo — the Cathedral Square — which is famous for its beautiful medieval art. Also called the Piazza dei Miracoli — the Square of Miracles — it is home to the city’s Cathedral (Duomo) and its freestanding bell tower — called the Campanile.

Most of us know the Campanile by its more popular name: the leaning Tower of Pisa. Although it is considered an exceptional example of Romanesque architecture, the 187-foot-tall Tower of Pisa is famous all over the world mainly because it leans.

For many years, people believed that the tower’s designer intended for it to lean. As it turns out, though, the tower’s lean is an accident caused by poor planning.

The Tower of Pisa is made of approximately 16,000 tons of limestone, lime mortar and marble. Unfortunately, it was constructed on a riverbed of sand and clay that’s not strong enough to support a building so tall and heavy.

Construction on the tower began in 1173. Because Pisa became involved in several wars, the tower wasn’t completed until 1350. Would you believe that the long construction time probably saved the tower from falling over, though?

Only a few years after construction started, people could see that the first three floors of the tower were already leaning. As the next three floors were added, builders purposefully built them with one side higher than the other to try to correct the lean. This resulted in the tower leaning in the opposite direction. It also means that the tower is actually curved!

Because the ground under the tower consists of unstable sand and clay, the growing building would compress the layers. As the ground was compressed, it would sink more in some areas than in others.

Fortunately for the people of Pisa, the long delays during construction gave the structure time to settle and the ground to become compacted. This made the foundation stronger over time and is the main reason the tower never fell over.

For hundreds of years, the tower was indeed falling. It would lean one more inch about every 20 years. Eventually, in 1990, it was closed to the public for fear that a large group of people at the top would weigh enough to make it topple over.

From 1990-2001, engineers from around the world helped to stabilize the tower. After several unsuccessful attempts at a solution, engineers finally came up with a plan that worked. They slowly removed ground from underneath the high side of the tower.

When they had finished, the tower had been straightened by nearly 16 inches, returning it to the position it held in about 1838. Barring a major catastrophe, such as an earthquake, engineers believe the tower is safe for another 300 years now.

Today, the leaning Tower of Pisa is once again open to visitors. It currently leans at an angle of approximately 3.99 degrees. This means the top is almost 13 feet from where it should be if the tower were perfectly straight.

And in case you’re wondering why they didn’t go ahead and straighten the tower completely, it’s because the people of Pisa wouldn’t hear of it. The leaning Tower of Pisa is a major tourist attraction that just wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t leaning!

 

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    • It does look like it’s falling, doesn’t it, Marion? Thank you so much for checking out Wonderopolis today and for leaving us this AWESOME comment! :-)

  1. I think that today’s wonder was really interesting! If the leaning Tower of Pisa really were to fall down, would builders rebuild it so that it was leaning, or would they make it safer by making the tower straight? I also think that tomorrow’s wonder has to do with typing, or computers.

    • That’s a really good question about the tower, Liddie! Because it is such a famous landmark, we WONDER if it would attract as many tourists if it were rebuilt so that it stood straight? Thanks for taking a guess about tomorrow’s Wonder, too. We’ll have to see if you’re correct when we all visit Wonderopolis tomorrow! :-)

  2. We really enjoyed today’s story about the leaning Tower of Pisa. Several of us cannot believe that the tower is still standing after all those years. Some of us have never heard about the leaning Tower of Pisa before, so it was great to learn some fascinating information about Italy!

    • We’re super happy to hear that you visited this Wonder together today and learned some new things about the leaning Tower of Pisa, Mrs. Newland’s Class! Thanks for leaving us this great comment to let us know you were here! :-)

    • We think you ARE really smart and creative, Kamryn! After all, you like learning in Wonderopolis! Thanks for leaving us a comment today! :-)

  3. Our class has noticed that Rahul is very good at guessing what the WONDERS are going to be. We WONDER how he has become so good at predicting?

    • We agree with you, Mrs. Phillips’ WONDERful Class! Rahul is a SUPER Wonder Friend! He is really great at reading each clue and sharing GREAT guesses! :-)

  4. W00t first comment!! :D and also cool wonder. Some people think in a few years it is going to fall though, so enjoy it while you can. :P

    • Thanks for letting us know what you thought about today’s Wonder, Keri! We’re glad you enjoyed it so much and we hope you learned some new things, too! :-)

  5. Hey wonderopolis! Could you [in the future] do a wonder on Hollywood movie stunts and how they are done? THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Yes it is, Sarah! Thanks for letting us know what you think about the leaning Tower of Pisa! We’re glad you stopped by Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • Hi, Antonio! It’s a LOT taller than 50 feet…the tower is 187 feet tall! Thanks so much for leaving us this GREAT comment today! :-)

    • Hi, Caroline! The leaning Tower of Pisa is in Italy. We encourage you to revisit today’s Wonder to learn more about where it’s located and why it’s called the “leaning” Tower! :-)

  6. I think it is very tall and very high, too. I’ve seen it in real life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    !!!!!!

    P.S. You were right about how tall it was.

  7. I loved this wonder of the day but, to me it didn’t seem like that tower was falling. My favorite wonder of the day that I have is what do you do to get the videos on to your website? I really want to have my own website. How did you make your website? Is it hard to make a website or is it easy?
    YOUR WEBSITE ROCKS!

    • Thanks for letting us know you think Wonderopolis ROCKS, Miriam! There are LOTS of ways to create a website! We think the easiest way for kids to start a website is to ask a parent to help them sign up for their own weblog (“blog”). If your parents are OK with it, there are lots of free blogging sites out there, and with a parent’s permission and help, you can start your own and be able to share photos, videos and more with your friends and family! There are even ways to protect your blog by making sure only the people you want to see your content can see it. Your parents can help you with that part, too! :-)

    • We’re glad to hear from you today, Maxini! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis again and leaving us this comment to let us know you were here! We hope you have a WONDERful Valentine’s Day, too! :-)

  8. I never knew a mistake in the construction could make a tower so famous.
    So I guess making a mistake can make you famous.
    What was the mistake that led to the tower to bend, but is still standing straight and tall to this day?
    Thanks a lot for all the posts they are indeed interesting and keeps me wondering….
    Rickii

    • There are LOTS of people throughout history who became famous for mistakes, Rickii! You’re really clever to to think about it that way! Thank you for letting us know you enjoy learning new things in Wonderopolis! :-)

  9. Dear Wonderopolis, Thanks for the awesome facts about the leaning tower. My sister and my mom went to see it, and we really want to visit, too.

    • Hello, Gabi and Ava! How NEAT that your mom and sister got to see the tower up close! We think we would like to visit Pisa one day, too, and see the famous tower! :-)

  10. I really enjoyed today’s story about the leaning Tower of Pisa. Thank you, I’m so happy that it is still standing. Thank you for today’s story.

    • Well, we’d like to say thank YOU for visiting Wonderopolis and sharing what you thought about this Wonder of the Day®, Isabelle! We appreciate your comment! :-)

  11. I learned from my dad several years ago, that the foundation is so unstable that after it was built straight, the foundation moved and it leaned over.

    • Thanks for sharing what you know about the leaning Tower of Pisa, Alice! We love it when our Wonder Friends add something awesome to a Wonder with their comments! :-)

  12. Whoa. The Way that it’s leaning, I was like, “AHHHHHHHHHHHH!” “Oh, it’s just a tower” my friends: “HAHHAHAHHAHA”

    • Thanks for leaving us this funny comment, Joaquin! We’re glad you had such a great reaction to seeing the leaning Tower of Pisa! :-)

    • Hello, Aleia! We appreciate your comment today…thank you for visiting Wonderopolis and sharing your thoughts with us! :-)

  13. I would like to see the leaning Tower of Pisa, but I wouldn’t want to be in it!!!
    I LOVE WONDEROPOLIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • We think it’s SO COOL that you love visiting Wonderopolis, Maddie! Thanks for letting us know! We’d like to see the Tower of Pisa in person some day, too! :-)

    • We really appreciate your enthusiasm for the things you learned about in this Wonder of the Day®, Emmy! We hope you get to visit Italy one day! You’re a SUPER Wonder Friend! :-)

    • Hi, Sarah! Even though construction on the tower began in 1173, it wasn’t totally finished until 1350. That’s 177 years! :-)

  14. That is simply crazy! You know I have always wanted to go to Italy! One day, I will fulfill my dream and go to see the leaning Tower of Pisa!

    • We think it would be AWESOME to visit Italy, Mak! We hope you get to visit there one day! Maybe we’ll see you there, because WE want to visit the Tower of Pisa, too! :-)

  15. I think this is very cool and it’s very cool because lol thinks it’s cool? Yes? I am from Italy, and I really like the article. Keep up the good work!

    • Hello, “LOL!” Thanks so much for sharing this GREAT comment with us today! We like learning new things about our Wonder Friends…we think it’s NEAT that you are from Italy! :-)

  16. That is very interesting. Can you do something about the Philippine Islands? My mom is from there. That is scary to think that at one point it was falling. I want to go there and to the top! I wonder what it is like up there?

    • That’s a great idea, ZZ! We are so glad you suggested a cool Wonder for us to explore– thank you! We hope you get to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa some day, but we bet there are lots of very cool images and videos you can find on the Internet! We hope you have a SUPER day! :)

  17. Thanks for taking the time to talk about this, I feel strongly about it and really like mastering more on this subject. If feasible, as you acquire experience, would you mind updating your blog with much more information and facts? It is very helpful for me. I would like to get suggestion about my website that is “The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the most remarkable architectural structures from medieval Europe. It is located in the Italian town of Pisa, one of the most visited European cities.”

    • Ciao, John, we are glad you shared your comment with us! Pisa is a WONDERful place full of history and culture, and we had a great time WONDERing about it! We wish we could update every detail of each of our Wonders, but we have more than 800 of them, and we cannot guarantee each of them will be updated as frequently as other informative sites. Some of us here at Wonderopolis have had the opportunity to travel to Pisa– what a lovely place! Thanks for visting us! A dopo! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Is the leaning Tower of Pisa falling?
  • Why does the Tower of Pisa lean?
  • Can the leaning Tower of Pisa be straightened?

Wonder Gallery

Leaning Tower of Pisa_shutterstock_85100518Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to check out the leaning Tower of Pisa up close? Through the magic of the Internet, you don’t even have to leave your living room or classroom. Just jump online to take a virtual tour of Pisa and its attractions!

Check out this replica of the leaning Tower of Pisa made of Legos. If you’re in a crafty mood, you can build the leaning Tower of Pisa out of all sorts of objects. Check out the links below to learn how to build your own leaning tower out of:

When you’re finished, be sure to email us a picture or post a picture of your leaning tower on Facebook. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

 

Still Wondering

In ReadWriteThink’s Looking at Landmarks student interactive, children look at and take notes on the famous landmarks featured in “Ben’s Dream,” by Chris Van Allsburg.

 

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