I was perplexed when my little niece told me, so adamantly, that she wanted to go to Italy. Not France, not Spain, not Germany – nor even America to visit Disneyland, Australia to view the Opera House or the Middle East to seek the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Definitely Italy.
It was unusual for a four-year-old to be so definite and assertive about these things. Curiosity inspired me to ask why.
The attraction was, apparently, because there was a tower there. Not any ordinary tower, furthermore, but one that is made of pizza. It was a leaning tower. The Leaning Tower of Pizza.
Her eagerness to experience the delights of this unique architectural delicacy persuaded me to find out more. I had not, after all, ever been to Italy, and had never experienced the unlikely pleasure of a sightseeing trip to a 183-foot margherita.
She was wrong about the tower, of course, but the Leaning Tower of Pisa nonetheless has a fascinating history. Not least the fact that it actually took 177 years to build, plenty of time in other words to have commissioned a full survey into the condition of the subsoil and the required depth of the foundations.
Despite its height the tower has a foundation of a mere three feet. To compensate for its tilt, which clearly manifested itself before the build was even completed, the upper floors were built with one side taller than the other. And then, in 1282, construction was interrupted by a battle in which the native Pisans were defeated by the Genoans.
The seventh floor was completed in 1319, and the bell chamber was finally added in 1372. The final design managed to harmonise the Gothic appearance of the bell chamber with the Romanesque style of the building itself. There are seven bells in all, each representing a note on the musical scale.
The Eco Restaurant Clapham, by contrast, does not lean to one side and did not take anything near 177 years to build. Nevertheless it attracts its own steady stream of visitors, although most come less to see the sights or to savour its architectural originality (much though we are rather fond of it) than to sample what many insist is the best pizza in London, with its healthy light base and fresh, healthy ingredients.
Indeed in an age of fast-food mediocrity, we believe a restaurant like ours is a tower of strength