Anyone knows a decent white-icing wedding cake needs a nice firm base. Without a proper professional cake stand, underpinning it foursquare, it is simply pointless constructing other layers on top.
How mortifying, if the bride and groom were appreciating the wedding speeches over a glass of bubbly, when the whole lot began to list dangerously and come crashing to the floor!
Any housewife knows that: but the architect of a confection built on a grand scale in 1173 seems to have dispensed with common sense and plunged in at the deep end of wishful thinking.
Pisa: sublime wedding of water and land, it reclines at ease between the Arno and Serchio Rivers, allowing them to form a laguna at the edge of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Home of sophistication and taste since the 12th century, the bell tower of its cathedral is one of the landmarks of the world.
The ground floor of the campanile – how is it the Italians seem to make every word sing like a nightingale? – is like an intricate cake. It is a set of columns linked by arches, each filled in and elaborated with gorgeous design. It is built in white marble at a time when Pisa was both victorious and prosperous in its dealings with neighbouring city states.
But it appears they had more money than sense. With an outer diameter of more than 50 feet and marble walls getting on for eight feet thick, one might counsel firm foundations. Yet, as we all know only too well, Pisa’s early creators accorded it just under ten feet of foundation to shoulder the tower.
Five years later, as workers progressed to the second floor, the debacle began to be obvious to all. That, and squabbling with Genoa, Lucca and Florence, sheepishly halted production on the tower for a hundred years.
All in all, it was not a bad move. The ground floor settled into its life in the soil, and the two became well acquainted.
1272: and the towers began to rise, builders building the walls on one side taller than the other to compensate for the tilt. Thus, Pisa’s tower may look straight, but speaking in the language of geometry it is curved.
War stopped play once more twelve years later. It was not until 1319 that the finishing touches were put to the seventh floor.
Time was not kind to the leaning tower of Pisa. Though it never fell down it never stopped leaning further and further.By the millennium it was in a sorry state.
One day, recounts Ingenia Magazine’s Michael Kenward, a British Soil Mechanic got a phone call from his Italian friend. The story goes that the mechanic,engineer and emeritus professor at Imperial College, John Burland, enquired after his friend’s health.
“I was fine,” his friend told him, “until I opened today’s newspapers and found that I was chairing a committee to decide how to prop up the Tower of Pisa.”
John empathised. “Commiserations,” he told his friend kindly.
“Save them for yourself,” came the reply, “the paper names you too!”
He was whisked out to Pisa, and to an adventure which involved removing soil from the north side, encouraging the tower to nestle substantially back into its moorings. The tower was straightened by 45 centimetres initially, returning it to its 1838 position. In 2008, after the removal of 7o metric tons of soil, it was announced the Tower had stopped moving for the first time in its history, and was good for 200 years.
Bravo, Signor Soil Mechanic. Bravissimo.
You can’t keep a good soil mechanic down. And there he was, John Burland, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme yesterday morning.
Because one of our national monuments is in a spot of bother.
Big Ben and the Tower of Pisa: they both live near rivers. The Jubilee Line rumbles on underneath the nation’s favourite clock tower, and Mr Burland has also been involved in building an underground car park beneath it.
This is nothing to do with the lean, says Burland, who advises the lack of cracks on the outer cladding would indicate the lean began before the cladding was put on, way back at its construction in 1859.
Chill, he says. We won’t be in Pisa’a predicament for another 10,000 years. Big Ben’s angle of lean is just 0.26 degrees, compared with the Pisa Campanile’s 3.99 degrees.
And so the The House of Commons Commission, charged with sorting the whole bally mess out, has taken a very British course of action.
The whole sorry business has been postponed until at least 2020, and the next Parliament.
The favourite media punchline of the day appealed to me, my politics scarlet. Burland told Today: “If you stand in Parliament Square and look towards it, you can just see that it moves very slightly to the left, but I wouldn’t put any political slant on that.”