History. com, in its feature "This Day in History", reminds us that on this day six years ago, the Leaning Tower of Pisa reopened to the public after a "monumental" (pun intended) effort to save it from falling.
The bell tower, which stands next to the city's cathedral, had begun to lean during its construction in the 12th century. The foundation began to sink in marshy ground, causing the lean. The builders tried to counter-balance it by making the top stories taller on one side, but the extra weight caused it to sink even further. It was finally completed in 1360 and people said it was a miracle it was still standing.
The tower became a magnet for the curious.
However, the combination of the passing years, the effects of the weather, the weight of many visitors climbing up and down its stairs and the soft ground took its toll.
The restoration effort started in 1990. Groups of experts worked for 11 years and spent $27 million to stabilize it. The 190-foot-high tower (58 meters) was leaning a full 15 feet (about 3 meters) off the perpendicular before it was closed to the public. In that year, about a million visitors had climbed the white marble tower. A first attempt to stop the lean almost brought the tower down in 1994, but engineers were eventually able to reduce the lean by removing some earth from the foundations.
Only guided tours are allowed now, but the curious still come from all over the world to see this marvel.
In the 1980s, before it was closed, I had an opportunity to visit it. I climbed up the worn marbled steps to the top. It was an unnerving experience, as the tower is open at each floor and the smooth marble requires that you watch your footing very carefully. At the top, the lean pushes you toward the edge. It feels like the tower wants you off. The gap between the columns is wider than it looks from the ground. You have to hug the interior wall to stop from falling. But what a thrill it is to be up there looking down on the green Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles).
For an account of how the tower was saved, see here
Photo is from http://www.sxc.hu/