The Leaning Tower of Suzhou

The Tiger Hill Pagoda in Suzhou, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, leans to one side by several degrees.

The leaning Tiger Hill Pagoda, Suzhou
汤馥鳞, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Japanese pagodas are famously stable. The wooden exterior of a Japanese pagoda is essentially a series of stacked boxes surrounding an enormous central pole that stretches from the top of the building down into its foundation. The outer walls and the central pillar are only loosely attached. In an earthquake, the boxes shimmy back and forth like a snake and the central pole, known as a shinbashira, pushes against their direction of movement. This ensures that the pagoda stays standing when other buildings of a similar height topple.

Pagodas in other countries lack this central pillar, and sometimes they’re not even made of wood. This means they are a little more susceptible to the perils of time.

The pagoda of Yunyan Temple in the city of Suzhou, eastern China, has seen some troubles. Construction of the pagoda finished one thousand and sixty years ago, in 961 CE… with an extra bit added to the top about three and a half centuries ago. Although it closely resembles the style of wooden pagodas, it is made of bricks and masonry. Instead of one central wooden pillar, it has a series of brick pillars. And some time in the last few centuries, some of those brick pillars cracked.

As a result of that cracking – and an unstable foundation – the Tiger Hill Pagoda leans. In terms of both the angle of inclination and the height of the pagoda it is comparable to the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

  • Height: Pagoda = 47 metres, Tower = 56 metres
  • Tilt: Pagoda = 3 degrees, Tower = 4 degrees

And like the Leaning Tower, engineers have attempted to reinforce the foundations and stop the structure from falling over. So far that has worked.

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