Friday, February 17, 2012

The Swerve of a Minaret Becomes a Wonder of the World!

Italy is a magical country where every region has something new to offer whether it is its food, the people, the history or its architecture. Italian architecture is unsurpassed in Europe and historically Italy has everything which shows within its architecture. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is the bell tower or a campanile and is one among the seven wonders of the world.

Intricate carvings, columns, arches, and other design elements are incorporated into the construction of the tower. For medieval Europe, these types of design themes and construction processes were way ahead of their time, resulting in a structure that has remained timeless in appearance through the ages.

The tower was built with limestone and lime mortar, though the exterior of the tower is covered in marble. Ironically, the limestone is probably why the tower has not cracked and broken- the rock is flexible enough that it can withstand the pressures placed on it by the lean. It is doubtful that the original architect, Bonanno Pisano, had any idea that the qualities of limestone would play a role in preventing its ultimate collapse. Originally, the leaning tower of Pisa was to be a bell tower for a cathedral. Five years after the initial construction of two floors it began to lean once the third floor was completed. At the time the cause of the lean was not known, though it was discovered many years later that the lean was the result of the tower being built on a dense clay mixture that was unable to fully support the weight of the tower.

The construction of the leaning tower of Pisa started in 1173. The tilt was already visible when the third layer was built in 1178. Construction stopped for nearly a century, because of Pisa's wars with the neighboring city of Florence. 100 long years passed before Giovanni di Simone constructed four additional floors. He had also intended to counteract the lean during the construction process but, like the original architects, made a critical miscalculation. The result was the four floors being built crooked, causing the tower to shift even more. In 1372 the bell chamber was finally attached to the leaning tower of Pisa, and there were no further modifications or additions made until the 19th century.

Alessandro Della Gherardesca decided to increase the value of the tower to the tourism industry by digging a pathway around the base of the tower that would allow tourists to see the detail that was put into the base. This took place in 1838, and resulted in the tower leaning even more when Gherardesca's workers struck water, flooding the ditches and increasing the tilt. Benito Mussolini was the next architect to try his hand stabilizing the tower in 1934. He felt that the tower was an embarrassment to Italy and that it must be corrected and returned to a perpendicular state. As a result of his orders, 361 holes were drilled into the foundation of the tower and 90 tonnes of cement were used to fill them. The cement, rather than form up in the holes and act as a counterweight, sank into the clay beneath the structure, causing the tower to lean over even more.

During the World War II the Tower was almost ruined when Americans ordered all towers in Italy to be destroyed so as to eliminate areas that could be used by snipers. The Tower was spared from destruction because of a last-minute retreat of American forces. Back then nobody could assess reasons for the tilt, that the tilt was because of insufficient foundations sinking into the weak subsoil. Many different efforts were taken to solve the problem, such as digging out the pathway around the foot of the tower. Under the command of Mussolini they even filled the foundations up with concrete, which made the looming even worse.

In 1999 the tower was finally returned to a tilt of 13 degrees. They reinforced the foundations and removed parts of subsoil under the high side. The question nowadays is if the leaning Tower of Pisa is still a monument according to the original designer and a testimony to Pisa's twelfth century status and wealth.


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