Don’t slouch. Put your shoulders back. Make sure to smile and show your good side! Well, if these are the standards of a polite presence, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is certainly impolite. The Italian Bell Tower has been standing with its posture proudly askew for the last 644 years (since completion in 1372). Despite of, or even because of its asymmetrical stance, the tower is startlingly beautiful. World famous. The tower is so beautiful, it was spared from annihilation during WWII even though German soldiers were suspected to be using it as a vantage point to spot Allied soldiers. Leon Weckstein, the 23-year-old GI tasked with giving the go ahead to destroy the tower remembers the morning of: “There wasn’t a single doubt in my mind that I really was about to do the deed, to direct sallies of doomsday fusillades.” But, struck as he was upon viewing Pisa’s bell tower, he just couldn’t find it in him to make the call to destroy it. You can read more about Leon Weckstein and the interview from which the above quote came here: http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2000/jan/13/features11.g23.
What I found myself thinking as I’ve researched the tower was this: the world has accepted (and rightly so) the tower to be unquestionably beautiful, even though it is also unquestionably flawed. This idea seems to fly in the face of modern thinking. What’s more is the fact that the builders of the tower were aware that it was leaning early on in its construction, and yet, they continued building it anyway. Can you imagine such a thing happening in our world today? We are so quick to throw away anything that is difficult or imperfect, and yet, if the builders of this gorgeous tower shared our throw away mentality, the world would have missed out on the beauty of this amazing structure.
How many perfectly engineered buildings exist in our world? Countless, I would suppose. And yet, do we know them by sight? Are they world famous? Would they be spared in a war because of their beauty? Probably not. Perhaps perfection isn’t as important as we think. Perhaps character counts more.
The tower is physically beautiful, but to me, the most beautiful thing about it is the representation of the idea that things don’t have to be “perfect” to be beautiful. The tower leans, it was ill conceived (originally built on a measly 3-meter foundation and soil too soft on one side to support it- hence the lean), and it has required a lot of help to have survived the centuries. Read more here about efforts made to stabilize the tower: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/sep/24/leaning-tower-pisa-restoration-architecture.
The leaning tower of Pisa is a little bit of a rebel. It’s a little bit off. It doesn’t hide its head in shame amongst the other famous structures of the world. It has no inferiority complex when it takes a gander at the Eiffel tower or any other straight and “perfect” structure. It stands perfectly imperfect. Beautifully broken. And that is a big part of why the world loves it. The leaning tower of Pisa isn’t afraid to give the world the parts of it that are a little crooked, strange, and different. Maybe we shouldn’t be, either. Who knows? The world just might think it’s beautiful.
A fancy drawing of the Leaning Tower of Pisa that I’ve drawn just for you.