In the early twelfth century an Italian architect made a mistake. He built a tower on a piece of unstable soil. It was probably not totally his fault – those commissioning the bell tower wanted it to be close to the cathedral, and building methods back then were not quite what they are now. Still, historical record leaves us unsure exactly who was responsible for the mistake, which saw the bell tower of Pisa begin to lean only a few years after its lower levels were built.
Wisely, no one deemed it necessary to pull it down and start again somewhere more stable, they just left it for a while and went off to war, leaving the remainder of the building project to become someone’s problem years later. Sure enough, peace reigned again and about a century later a confident set of builders added a few extra bricks on the subsiding side to straighten the tower as it grew upwards. Not entirely successfully but it didn’t fall over which was a good result.
Two centuries after construction began, the bell chamber was finally installed, and five centuries after those first stones were laid in sinking soil, the final bell went into place. So, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has leaned for nearly a millennium. In the past couple of decades, fears have been held that it would actually finally fall over, so it was closed and serious stabilizing work was carried out. With our superior engineering skills, and equal levels of arrogance, the whole tower was propped up and declared safe for at least the next few centuries. Although enough tilt was kept to maintain the reputation of the tower. After all, how many of us would ever have been to Pisa if not for its infamous leaning bell tower?