The Leaning Tower (Torre Pendente) has always tilted. Begun in 1173, it started to subside when it had reached just three of its eight storeys, but it leaned in the opposite direction to the present one. Odd-shaped stones were inserted to correct this deficiency, whereupon the tower lurched the other way. Over the next 180 years a succession of architects continued to extend the thing upwards, each one endeavouring to compensate for the angle, the end result being that the main part of the tower is slightly bent. Around 1350, Tommaso di Andrea da Pontedera completed the magnificent stack of marble and granite arcades by crowning it with a bell chamber, set closer to the perpendicular than the storeys below it, so that it looks like a hat set at a rakish angle.
By 1990 the tower was leaning 4.5m from the upright and nearing its limits. A huge rescue operation was then launched, which involved wrapping steel bands around the lowest section of the tower, placing 900 tonnes of lead ingots at its base to counterbalance the leaning stonework, removing water and silt from beneath the tower’s foundations, and finally reinforcing the foundations and walls with steel bars. Eleven years and many millions of euros later, the tower was officially reopened to the public in November 2001.
The ascent to the bell chamber takes you up a narrow spiral staircase of 294 steps, at a fairly disorientating five-degree angle. It’s not for the claustrophobic or those afraid of heights, but you might think the steep admission fee is worth it for the privilege of getting inside one of the world’s most famous and uncanny buildings.