In 1172, Donna Berta di Bernardo, a widow, donated 60 soldi for the construction of a campanile for the cathedral of Pisa. Sixty soldi was a lot of money – about nine ounces of gold, currently about $10,000.
Her donation bought a lot of large stones from the quarries in the hills behind Pisa, and almost nine hundred years later, most of them are still there.
The campanile got started the next year, but by 1178, as construction reached the third floor, the tower began to sink. It was sitting on unstable subsoil, a problem no one had foreseen.
So they stopped building the campanile for about a century – Pisa also was busy fighting wars at the time and the upshot was that the soil settled enough for construction to continue.
But the campanile – the leaning tower – never stopped tilting. So, in the 1970s, a consortium of architects, engineers, mathematicians and construction experts of all kinds met to consider the problem. They studied it for two decades. Finally, in January of 1990, the tower was closed to the public and efforts to correct the tower’s subsidence problem began.
In essence, the plan involved removing soil from under the high side – removing it very slowly and carefully – and straightening the tower.
It took eleven years, but on December 15, 2001, the scaffolding was removed and the tower was reopened to the public. Work, however, went on. More soil was removed, the surface was cleaned and in 2008 it was announced that not only had the tower been returned to the position it had in 1838, but for the first time ever, it had stopped moving.
It cost Italian taxpayers $27 million, but given its money-making potential, no one objected. But will the world still flock to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa if there’s no chance of being there for that historic moment when it falls?