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13 Straight Facts About the Leaning Tower of Pisa

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa may be the world's greatest spot for a tourist photo, but there's a lot more to this centuries-old icon than lighthearted images of your friends and family "holding up" the tower. Here's everything you need to know about Italy's most beloved architectural accident.

1. IT TOOK TWO CENTURIES TO BUILD IT.

Construction on a campanile, or bell tower, to accompany the public cathedral in the Italian riverside city of Pisa broke ground in August 1173. By 1178, workers had made it to the third story of the structure, which was already tilting slightly to the north. Military conflicts with other Italian states would soon halt progress on the tower, which would not resume until 1272. This time, construction only remained underway for 12 years before another war again stopped the work. A final wave of construction picked up again in the early 14th century, concluding with the installation of a bell chamber in 1372.

2. THE TOWER LEANS BECAUSE OF ILL-CONCEIVED DESIGN PLANS. 

While some architectural follies are the product of unforeseeable bouts of bad luck, the Leaning Tower of Pisa’s signature tilt could have been avoided with better planning. A shallow foundation and the soft ground of Pisa—composed of sand, clay, and deposits from the Tuscan rivers Arno and Serchio—were too unstable to support the building even in the early stages of its construction. Amazingly, the builders noticed this error early in the two-century construction project—after the addition of a second story to the tower, the ground began to give, prompting that infamous slant. 

3. AT ONE POINT, THE TOWER’S LEAN SWITCHED DIRECTIONS.

When construction resumed in 1272, the additional developments did not exactly help the tower’s posture. The stacking of additional stories atop the existing three jostled the building’s center of gravity, causing a reversal in the direction of its tilt. As the tower accrued its fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh stories, the once northward-leaning structure began to tip further and further south

4. THE LEAN KEPT GETTING PROGRESSIVELY WORSE.

As time passed, the ground only further weakened beneath the tower’s heft. An early 0.2-degree tilt increased gradually over the subsequent centuries, maxing out at 5.5 degrees—or with the top 15 feet south of the bottom—by 1990. Over the next decade, a team of engineers leveled the soil beneath the tower and introduced anchoring mechanisms in an effort to rectify the landmark’s nearly catastrophic lean. The project allotted the tower a more secure stance, but it did not prevent continued tipping. By 2008, however, a second go at balancing the foundational soil halted the tower’s continued slouching for the first time ever. 

5. THE ENGINEER WHO OVERSAW THIS RECLAMATION PROJECT WASN’T ALWAYS AN EXPERT IN THE FIELD.

John Burland wasn’t exactly a prime candidate for a project like solidifying the Leaning Tower of Pisa on paper. Burland admits that soil mechanics, the area of engineering that played a pivotal role in the stabilizing of the tower, was his worst subject during his undergraduate studies at University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He ultimately overcame his aversion to this subject to become a professor at Imperial College London (and saved the Leaning Tower of Pisa from complete collapse, of course). 

6. THE TOWER COULD STILL RESUME TILTING. 

Barring additional efforts to prevent future leaning, the tower is predicted to remain stable only for the next 200 years. If everything else remains constant, the ground should begin giving way again in the early 23rd century, allowing for the tilt to slowly resume

7. THE LEANING TOWER OF PISA IS JUST ONE OF SEVERAL LEANING TOWERS IN PISA. 

A number of other Pisani structures suffer foundational instability thanks to the river city’s soft grounds. Among these are San Nicola, a 12th century church located about half a mile south of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and San Michele degli Scalzi, an 11th century church about two miles east of the pair. While San Nicola, whose base is rooted beneath the earth, leans only mildly, San Michele degli Scalzi boasts a substantial 5-degree tilt. 

8. OTHER TOWERS HAVE CHALLENGED ITS FAMED LEAN.

No building on Earth is more famous for its diagonal posture than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but several others have challenged its superlative slant. In 2009, the Leaning Tower of Surhuusen, a German steeple erected between the 14th and 15th centuries, officially “out-leaned” its Pisani rival—Guinness record keepers calculated that the Surhuusen tower’s tilt extended a full 1.2 degrees further than that of Pisa’s, which had been modified from its pre-1990s peak of 5.5 degrees to a less-drastic 3.97 degrees. Another German tower, the town of Bad Frankenhausen’s 14th century church Oberkirche, and the shorter of the Two Towers of Bologna have also bested the Pisa tower with 4.8-degree and 4-degree leans, respectively. 

9. MUSSOLINI TRIED TO FIX THE TOWER. HE ONLY MADE IT WORSE. 

In 1934, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini declared the crooked attraction was a pockmark on his nation’s reputation and allocated resources for straightening the building. Mussolini’s men drilled hundreds of holes into the tower’s foundation and pumped in tons of grout in a misguided effort to rectify its tilt. Instead, the heavy cement caused the base of the tower to sink deeper into the soil, resulting in an even more severe lean. 

10. THE TOWER WAS A MILITARY BASE DURING WORLD WAR II. 

Even though the tower’s distinctive silhouette would seem to make it an easy target, the German army felt it was a prime lookout point during World War II because the tall tower provided optimal surveillance over the surrounding flat terrain. 

11. AMERICAN TROOPS DECIDED NOT TO DESTROY THE TOWER. 

The German use of the tower nearly succeeded where gravity has failed in bringing the tower down. When the advancing U.S. Army was charged with demolishing all enemy buildings and resources in 1944, soldiers were too spellbound by the iconic tower’s aesthetic charms to call in artillery to bring it down. As detailed by veteran Leon Weckstein in a 2000 interview with The Guardian, the American troops braving the terrains of Axis-occupied Pisa were so entranced by the sight of the Leaning Tower that they couldn’t call for the volley of fire. Weckstein recalls preparing to attack the Nazi base before ultimately retreating and leaving the beautiful tower intact. 

12. GALILEO MAY NOT HAVE DROPPED A CANNONBALL FROM THE TOP. 

Among Renaissance physicist Galileo Galilei’s most famous achievements was the discovery that gravity’s effect on an object is the same regardless of its mass. This epiphany is said to have hit Galileo atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa, from where he allegedly dropped a cannonball and a musket ball in 1589. The scientist’s biography, penned by disciple Vincenzo Viviani, remains the sole official assertion that such an experiment took place. 

Modern scholars like Paolo Palmieri and James Robert Brown argue that the Leaning Tower of Pisa test existed only as a thought experiment of Galileo’s—devised perhaps at a much later chapter in his life—and was never carried out but was inflated by Viviani to buff the grandeur of Galileo’s discovery. 

13. A ROCK DOME IN ANTARCTICA IS NAMED AFTER THE TOWER. 

Despite having been discovered by the French Antarctic Expedition, a particularly hefty rock dome in the seventh continent’s Geologie Archipelago is named for Italy’s prized tower. The 27-meter-long formation, first documented on Rostand Island in 1951, goes by the nickname of “Tour de Pise” thanks to its resemblance to the building.

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Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence
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5 Frank Lloyd Wright Homes You Can Buy Right Now
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Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

It can be hard for homeowners to sell Frank Lloyd Wright houses, even if they are live-in works of art. Some prospective owners don't want to deal with pilgrims or rubberneckers, while others simply aren't fans of Wright's style, or his penchant for building in far-flung locations. The upside? The architect's mega-fans have a better chance of scoring a genuine Wright original, occasionally at a relatively bargain price. From suburban Minnesota to rural New York, here are five drool-worthy Wright residences that you can purchase right now.

1. THE PAUL OLFELT HOUSE IN ST. LOUIS PARK, MINNESOTA

Exterior shot of the Paul Olfelt House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
Courtesy of the Berg Larsen Group, Coldwell Banker Burnet

Address: 2206 Parklands Lane, St. Louis Park, Minnesota 55416

Asking Price: $1.3 million

History: In the 1950s, Wright designed one of his moderately priced Usonian homes for clients Paul and Helen Olfelt, who lived with their young children in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. A fan of Wright’s work, the couple had written the architect a letter requesting that he design their family one of his stylish single-family residences.

“We hoped for a refuge from the world for part of our day, a place where we could enjoy nature and the beauty of man’s creativeness in harmony with nature,” Olfelt, a radiologist, wrote in 1969 in the journal Northwest Architect. “We wanted a home that by virtue of its character would help us and our children be dissatisfied with the ordinary.”

Wright accepted the commission and briefly met with the Olfelts to discuss his vision, although he never visited the actual site—a tree-filled cul-de-sac—in person. The three-bedroom home's design was completed shortly before the architect’s death in 1959, and the Olfelts officially moved into the home in September 1960, and listed it for sale for the very first time in 2016. It’s still on the market, just waiting for a lucky Twin Cities area buyer to snap it up.

Bona Fides: The Paul Olfelt House comes equipped with a wood-burning fireplace; a fully equipped kitchen; and a master suite with both a dressing room/closet and an en suite three-quarter bath. It also includes many furniture pieces—including chairs, ottomans, desks, lamps, and tables—that Wright custom-designed for the home. Many, if not all, of these items are included the home’s sale price.

Fun Facts: The home has a basement, which is “rare for Wright homes,” a representative from Berg Larsen Group of Coldwell Banker Burnet tells Mental Floss. “He drew the line at the request for a bathroom; therefore, there’s an odd little commode in the unfinished storage area that we refer to as ‘plumbed for additional bathroom.’"

The basement also includes an office, which was designed for Olfelt; a play area for children (complete with swing); and a bar with banquette seating.

Interior shot of the Paul Olfelt House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in St. Louis Park, Minnesota
Courtesy of the Berg Larsen Group, Coldwell Banker Burnet

Interior shot of the Paul Olfelt House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
Courtesy of the Berg Larsen Group, Coldwell Banker Burnet

2. TIRRANNA IN NEW CANAAN, CONNECTICUT

Exterior shot of Tirranna by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

Address: 432 Frogtown Road, New Canaan, Connecticut 06840

Asking Price: $7.2 million

History: "Tirranna" is an Australian aboriginal word meaning "running waters"—a fitting choice, considering that the U-shaped residence sits next to a pond fed by a nearby river and overlooks a tiny cascade. The home was built in the 1950s, and was one of Wright's very last houses built before his death.

Bona Fides: "Tirranna is one of the two or three biggest homes Wright ever built or designed, just from a size perspective," Houlihan Lawrence broker Doug Milne tells Mental Floss. "As you enter the main room, it goes from very low ceilings to soaring ceilings and glass, with Brazilian mahogany walls and ceilings that are just in miraculous condition."

Tirranna has seven bedrooms, and is surrounded by 15 acres of forest. Also on the grounds are a barn and stable, a greenhouse, a guest house, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a workshop, and gardens designed by Frank Okamura, the landscape architect for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Fun Fact: If Tirranna achieves its $7.2 million asking price, it will set a record for the highest price ever paid for a Wright house. This money will go toward an important cause: mental health research.

Tirranna's last owner was the late businessman Ted Stanley, who died in early 2016 at the age of 84. But while Stanley became rich selling collectibles, his true passion ended up being medical philanthropy. It all started when Stanley's teenage son, Jonathan Stanley, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the late 1980s. His eventual recovery was largely due to being treated successfully with the right medicine. The experience turned Stanley into a staunch advocate for mental health research, and he spent the remainder of his life donating vast portions of his fortune to research institutions like the Broad Institute, a biomedical and genomic research center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Broad Institute employs some of the world's top scientists, who research both the genetic and molecular causes of psychiatric disorders and potential treatments. “My son’s life was saved,” Stanley told The New York Times in 2014. "I would like to purchase that happy ending for other people."

When Stanley died in 2016, he left the Broad Institute much of his fortune. Tirranna's proceeds will also be directed toward the research center.

Exterior shot of Tirranna by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

Interior shot of Tirranna by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

3. THE LOUIS PENFIELD HOUSE IN WILLOUGHBY HILLS, OHIO

Exterior shot of the Louis Penfield House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois.
Courtesy of Howard Hanna

Address: 2215 River Road, Willoughby Hills, Ohio 44094

Asking Price: $1.3 million

History: Designed by Wright and built in the mid 1950s, the Louis Penfield House is a nature lover's dream. The restored Usonian home sits atop a knoll overlooking the nearby Chagrin River, and across the street from protected forest, creeks, and hiking trails. The home was commissioned by high school art teacher Louis Penfield and his wife, Pauline, but has operated as a vacation rental house since 2003. New owners can opt to keep renting it or to use the home as a private residence.

Bona Fides: The three-bedroom, two-story home comes complete with Wright-designed furniture, which is included in the cost of sale. Owners can also say bye-bye to heating bills, as the home has a radiant-floor heating system fueled by one of two natural gas wells on the property. And just in case you were looking for even more bragging rights, the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Plus, prospective buyers have the chance to score two Wright homes for the price of one (well, kind of): "The last original Wright building site in the world is located adjacent to the Penfield House," and is included in the sale, listing agent Karen Eagle of Howard Hanna tells Mental Floss. "The building plans for Wright’s last residential commission, called Riverrock, are owned by the Penfields. The house is historically significant. It is design number 5909, and was on Wright’s drawing board when he died. The Penfields received the plans shortly after his death in April 1959."

Fun Fact: "Louis Penfield was nearly 7 feet tall," Eagle says. "The home was designed to accommodate his tall stature. Frank Lloyd Wright's ceilings are typically low. The staircase is pretty interesting too, since it accommodates for height."

According to legend, Penfield visited Wright's Wisconsin studio and challenged the architect to build a custom home for his towering frame. Wright accepted the dare, and mailed his new client a preliminary drawing six months later. The rest, as they say, is history.

Exterior shot of the Louis Penfield House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois.
Courtesy of Howard Hanna

Interior shot of the Louis Penfield House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois
Courtesy of Howard Hanna

4. THE F.B. HENDERSON HOUSE IN ELMHURST, ILLINOIS

Exterior shot of the F.B. Henderson House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois
Courtesy of Zillow

Address: 301 South Kenilworth Avenue, Elmhurst, Illinois 60126

Asking Price: $1 million

History: Built in the early 1900s, the F.B. Henderson House is an early example of Wright's signature brand of Prairie style architecture. The architect built the home in conjunction with Chicago architect Webster Tomlinson, who briefly served as Wright's business partner. The two are both listed as the home's architects, although Tomlinson was reportedly more like the project's office manager and business agent.

Originally commissioned by client Frank Bignell Henderson in 1901, the home has been on and off the market for the past decade. That said, real estate agents tell Mental Floss that they've seen prospective buyers sniffing around as of late.

Bona Fides: Both the interior and exterior of the F.B. Henderson House have been recently restored, but the property still has plenty of original mid-century charm to spare. And if charm alone won't do, there's also three fireplaces, a wine cellar, and an expansive terrace overlooking the lawn.

"There is a real open feel on the first floor," agent Marilyn Fisher of LW Reedy Real Estate tells Mental Floss. "It’s a massive space. It has a huge foyer as you walk in, and then when you come into the main part of the house, you have a really big living room. On either side of the living room are mirror-image rooms. One side is half of an octagon, and the other side is the other half, making for a wide expanse. It's a very dramatic look."

Fun Fact: The F.B. Henderson House has more than 80 art glass, or stained glass, windows. Wright often referred to these mini works of art as "light screens," as they evoked the look of sliding Japanese shoji screens.

Exterior shot of the F.B. Henderson House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois
Courtesy of Zillow

Interior shot of the F.B. Henderson House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois
Courtesy of Zillow

5. THE MASSARO HOUSE IN PUTNAM COUNTY, NEW YORK

Exterior shot of a home on Petra Island, in New York, inspired by designs by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Courtesy of Chilton & Chadwick

Address: Petra Island, Lake Mahopac, Carmel, New York

Asking Price: $14.92 million

History: Some Wright purists turn up their noses at the Massaro House, in spite of its spectacular location (on a 10-acre private island), its spectacular design (a 5000-square-foot home with a cantilevered deck that practically puts Fallingwater to shame), and its spectacular scenery (did we mention it's on a lake?). They say it's just "inspired" by the architect, instead of truly being his original work.

Around 1950, engineer A.K. Chahroudi commissioned Wright to design him a dream home on the island, but the client wound up not being able to afford the planned project. Instead, Wright created a small guest cottage for his client. In 1996, sheet metal contractor Joe Massaro purchased Petra Island, and he also acquired Wright's original plans for the site, intending to fulfill the famous architect's ultimate vision.

With the help of architects and scholars, the Massaro House was completed around 2007. However, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation refuses to recognize it as an authentic Wright design, as they're not happy about some controversial design tweaks Massaro made to the plans.

Bona Fides: The home has geometric windows, a wraparound patio, and boulders integrated into the walls, giving it a natural feel. Other structures on the island include the aforementioned guest house and a tea house.

Fun Facts: If you own your own chopper, look no further than the Massaro House. "It has a helipad," Chadwick Ciocci, the CEO and founder of global real estate concierge Chilton & Chadwick, tells Mental Floss. "I don’t know of any other Frank Lloyd Wright homes that have that."

"Also very important is that the home is on a private heart-shaped island," Ciocci adds. (Really? We hadn't noticed.)

Interior shot of a home on Petra Island, in New York, inspired by designs by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Courtesy of Chilton & Chadwick

Aerial shot of a home on Petra Island, in New York, inspired by designs by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Courtesy of Chilton & Chadwick
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Want to Live Like Snow White? Buy This Cottage
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In the 1970s, one family in Washington state decided to bring the magic of Snow White home—and we don't mean on VHS. (That didn't come out until 1994, anyway.) They built a replica of the cottage from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Olalla, across Puget Sound from Seattle. And now, you can take over Snow White’s housekeeping duties—the house is for sale, as we spotted on the listing site TopTenRealEstateDeals.com.

The house looks straight out of a Disneyland attraction, with a winding staircase seemingly built into a tree, hand-built doors of different sizes with giant iron hinges, stone details and exposed beams, a wood stove, and a rounded interior that “wraps around you like a big hug,” according to the listing. (Good luck hanging shelves, though.) Honestly, the shiny walls look a little plastic, but it’s all part of the Disneyfied appeal.

The interior of the first floor shows a stone oven, a fake tree, and a chandelier.

A spacious room with two different sized doorways looking through to another room.

A bedroom has a mattress tucked into a cave-like nook.

An exterior view of the cottage through an overgrown garden.

Unlike the Seven Dwarfs’ pad, though, this comes with a hot tub and high-speed internet, not to mention a washer and dryer to save any future Snow Whites the effort of hanging laundry. And there’s no need for everyone to sleep side-by-side in twin beds. The two-story “cottage” has four bedrooms and five baths.

The 2800-square-foot house comes on a five-acre gated property. Outside, there’s a sweet tree house with a fireplace inside, a wooden bridge over a creek, and a garden with fruit trees.

It’s $775,000, zero dwarfs included. You can see the listing here.

All images courtesy TopTenRealEstateDeals.com.

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