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Italy’s most famous tower, the Tower of Pisa, started leaning when it was only two floors high. That was a mere five years into the construction work, which started in 1173 and continued, on and off, for nearly two hundred years.

The reason for the leaning is that the tower is built on ground that is too soft to bear the weight of the building.

While any stone building in any style would probably sink in or lean at the same spot, the Tower of Pisa is built in a style that does not help, the Romanesque. A style that may be summed up in one word. Heavy. In all the senses of the word.

Here is the Pisa Cathedral, also Romanesque but built a century earlier, with the leaning tower on the side:

Even though the Gothic developed from the Romanesque and the two were sometimes mixed, these styles can be seen as opposites. Gothic structures are usually tall, pointy and thin, whereas Romanesque structures tend to be rather short, round and thick. Here are the more specific characteristics of the Romanesque, which spans the early 10th to late 12th century period:

– Thick, heavy structures in which the walls bear most of the loads

– Round arches, round towers and columns

– Relatively plain decoration, with little stonework

– Tiny windows, which make for dark interiors

 San Vittore alle Chiuse in Marche, Italy, early 11th century. 

Saint-Apollinaire Cathedral in Valence, France, 11th century

 San Martin de Tours Church in Fromista, Spain, 11th century

San Martin de Tours Church interior, with typically round Romanesque arches

In Britain, the Norman style of architecture shares similar features, as it is a form of northern Romanesque.

The best places to see Romanesque buildings, especially churches, are in France, Italy, and the north of Spain, in small towns and villages.

If you’re traveling in any of those areas and you see a relatively short, heavy and plain stone structure with tiny windows, chances are it’s Romanesque.