Tuscany Umbria & the Marches

Provides invaluable assistance… A true flavour of this wonderful part of Italy.

Dublin Evening Herald

Amazingly well-updated and researched.

The Times

An excellent guidebook and a good read.

The Guardian

The guidebook of choice for travellers who like to mix culture and good living.

Anthony Sattin, the Sunday Times

The Leaning Tower – an excerpt from Tuscany Umbria & the Marches

The stories claiming the tilt was accidental were most likely pure fabrications to account for what must have seemed a great civic embarrassment. The argument isn't very convincing. It seems hard to believe that the tower would start to lean when only 33ft tall; much of the weight would still be in the foundations. The argument then insists that the Pisans doggedly kept building it after the lean commenced. The architects who measured the stones in the last century concluded that the tower's lean was intentional when it was begun in 1173. Mention this to a Pisan, and he will be as offended as if you had suggested lunacy is a problem in his family.

The leaning campanile is not the only strange thing in the field of Miracles. The more time you spend here, the more you will notice: little monster-griffins, dragons and such, peeking out of every corner of the oldest sculptural work, skilfully hidden, or the big bronze griffin sitting on a column atop the cathedral apse (a copy) and a rhinoceros by the door, Muslim arabesques in the Campo Santo, perfectly classical Corinthian capitals in the cathedral nave and pagan images on the pulpit. The elliptical cathedral dome, in its time the only one in Europe, shows that the Pisans had not only the audacity but the mathematical skills to back it up. You may have noticed that the baptistry too is leaning– about 5ft, in the opposite direction. And the cathedral façade leans outwards about afoot, hard to notice but disconcerting if you see it from the right angle. This could hardly be accidental. So much in the field of Miracles give evidence of a very sophisticated, strangely modern taste for the outlandish. Perhaps the medieval master masons in charge here simply thought that plain perpendicular buildings were becoming just a little trite.

Whatever, the campanile is a unique and beautiful building–also a very expensive bit of whimsy, with some 190 marble and granite columns. It has also been expensive to the local and national governments who have tried to shore up the tower–£80 million since 1990, when rescue operations began. In the first phase counterweights (800 tons of lead ingots) were stacked at the base of the tower’s leaning side, supporting the tilt. Then the lead ingots were replaced by an underground support: a ring of cement was laid around the foundations and anchored to 10 steel cables attached to the bedrock 164ft underground. But digging under the 14,000-ton tower is perilous; in September 1995, while workers were freezing the ground to mute vibrations, they found a ring of cement from the last century, when suddenly to their horror the tower groaned and tipped another tenth of an inch.

To prevent similar scares, in 1998 the tower was given a girdle of plastic-coated steel braces, attached by a pair of 72ft steel cables to a counterweight system hidden among the buildings on the north end of the Campo dei Miracoli. The final stage involved removing soil from under the north, east and west sides of the tower from a depth of about 20ft below ground level. This seems to have worked; the tower is not only stable by has actually righted itself about 16 inches (to a lean of about 15ft). It was finally reopened to the public in December 2001.

© Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls

Letters from Readers

I made very good use of your guide Tuscany, Umbria and The Marches. I found the guide full of useful and interesting information: I also appreciated the frequent light touches. The style used made the intake of facts, both historical and contemporary, pleasant and enjoyable.