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Photographer's Note

THE LEANING TOWER OF PISA

In a cartoon that one of my students once sent me, two medieval builders are seen, one whispering to the other, “We saved some money on the foundation, but don’t worry, no one will ever notice!”

On the grounds of the Campo di Miracoli in Pisa, sits the Cathedral or Duomo, the Baptistry and the famous bell tower. Work on the bell tower of the Cathedral commenced around AD 1160, but right from the beginning the tower began to lean. The builders would get discouraged, abandon it, only to come back and build a few more courses (there are eight altogether). Each time they returned, they would place heavier weights on the “high side.” With all the delays, the completion of the tower came two hundred years after the construction first began.

In the last two centuries, each time that a tower collapsed somewhere in Italy, a commission would be appointed to save the Tower of Pisa, and each commission’s effort succeeded in doing more harm than good. During WWII, Italian anti-aircraft gunners, trying to shoot down an Allied bomber flying overhead, missed the plane, and shot one of the columns of the tower instead. Happily, it was not a direct hit on the tower.

Just a few years ago, a group of engineers and architects finally succeeded in straightening the tower by about 40 cm, away from its fatal angle of inclination of 5.5°. They performed their feat by removing earth from below the high side, with long augurs. (Of course, no one would want to see the tower straightened all the way, who would visit the "Plumb Tower of Pisa!")

Legend has it that four hundred years ago Galileo, the ‘Father of Physics,’ discovered the Law of Free Fall, after performing experiments in which he dropped objects from the top. There is no real proof that Galileo actually performed the experiment there, but he was a student and later a professor at the University of Pisa, and he did discover the law of free fall.

I had seen the Tower from the grounds of the Campo di Miracoli in several previous visits to Pisa, but the tower was always closed to visitors. In some years I saw it with stabilizing cables on one side of the tower. When I finally saw the tower open to visitors in July of 2005, I immediately purchased a ticket, and waited until the 8-8:30 pm slot for the chance to climb the tower, three hour later. I had previously submitted a shot of the "Worn Steps of the Leaning Tower." The height of the tower is 55.86 m (183.27 ft), or approximately 18 stories.

The present photograph was shot in the top course of the tower where the bells hang. The bell hangs vertically, the surrounding walls lean, and on some of the sides (not the one seen) niches have been carved out of the walls, in order for the bells to clear the walls as they swing. Next to the bell, in the background is seen, the dome of the medieval Baptistery, resembling the bell itself.

I shot the photo with my first digital camera, a Fuji-4700, and performed minimal post-processing in Photoshop CSII — increasing the contrast and creating a simple frame. I would have liked to repeat Galileo's experiment, dropping a few Euros from the side. But who wants to see Euro drop!

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 5933 W: 454 N: 10199] (34109)
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