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Millions of tourists flock to the Leaning Tower of Pisa every year, drawn to its gravity-defying tilt that has withstood centuries. But how much longer will this iconic Italian attraction stand? Understanding the tower’s future structural integrity (or lack thereof) requires a look at its past.

Construction began on the bell tower within the Piazza del Duomo, or Cathedral Square, in 1173, marking the start of two centuries of on-and-off building interrupted by wars. Even from the first few floors, builders of the tower noticed a southward lean. The main culprit? The malleable soil underneath, softened by the area’s high water table.

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