leaning-tower-pisa-stairs

Why the stairs of the Leaning Tower of Pisa are as interesting as the tilt

Aug. 17, 2022
Thomas Wilk recalls seeing and feeling the lean while climbing Italy's famous tower.

It seems like every other day this summer I’ve seen pictures shared by friends either from the deck of a cruise ship, the back of a Harley, or from box seats at baseball parks.

One good friend shared photos from her trip to Egypt, complete with a visit to the Pyramids of Giza and time spent sailing up and down the Nile River. Another good friend saved up three years’ worth of family vacations and splurged on a massive safari adventure in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Maasai Mara in Kenya. He and his family completed a quest to spot and photograph all of the Big Five game animals in Africa: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and African buffalo. The last one they spotted was the leopard, which was hanging out in a tree, dozing and swishing its tail having just eaten a big meal.

In fact, it’s 20 years to the month since that friend and I took a trip together to Italy, for two weeks in August 2002. We made a deal: he would take care of all the logistics (flights, trains, hotels) and I would handle all of the cultural details (restaurants, museum tickets, and a crash course in basic Italian).

Our trip started in Venice and then moved through Florence before ending in Rome. The trip involved lots of stairs: up to the top of the Basilicas of St. Mark and St. Peter, and of the Duomo in Florence. But the best staircase was the one belonging to the world’s most famous facility maintenance project: the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

About the Author: Thomas Wilk
Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University.

Timing was on our side – remedial work on the Tower to reduce the tilt from 5.5 degrees to 3.97 degrees had just been completed the year before, and 2002 was the first summer the tower had been open to the public since 1989. My friend got going on the logistics, booking us an early train to Pisa; then once the train pulled in to the station, I ran about a mile to the ticket counter to get timed tickets to climb the Tower.

And the climb is where things really got interesting. You definitely feel the lean of the Tower when you climb the staircases to the top, but seeing the lean is another matter entirely. The staircases are almost entirely enclosed, running around the inside edge of the Tower for eight stories, with no way to peer outside to mark your upward progress.

Except, there was a visual cue that thrilled the engineer part of my brain: the grooves worn in the marble stairs over 800 years! At points where the Tower’s lean pulls you to the right, you see an 800-year wear mark on the right part of the stair. Then as you make your way up and around each floor, the wear mark moves to the center of the stair, then off to the left, then back to the center, and then back again to the right. It was a simple wave pattern, repeated seven times over seven floors, the only visual reference point for the lean that the rest of our bodies were feeling.

I hope you’ve created some great memories of your own this summer, ones that you’ll also be telling stories about 20 years from now.

This story originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

From the Editor

This article is part of our monthly From the Editor column. Read more from Thomas Wilk.

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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