Mamma Mia! Illinois is Home to a Replica of Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa
Have you always wanted to visit Italy but haven't been able to book that plane ticket just yet? Look no further! If you are planning a visit to Chicago or traveling through Northern Illinois, you must add this unique roadside attraction to your list of places to stop. Located only five to six hours from the tristate, you'll feel like you are in Italy without ever stepping foot on an airplane (or emptying your bank account).
Experience Italy in Illinois
During a visit to Chicago while we were looking for interesting things to do to add to our weekend itinerary, I came across this realistic replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa just outside of the city in the village of Niles. As someone with a trip to Italy at the top of her bucket list, there was no way I was going to miss out on visiting this weird but interesting Illinois attraction.
Completed in 1934, the stunning replica stands 94 feet tall and 28 feet in diameter compared to Italy's Pisa which measures 177 feet tall and 54 feet around. Constructed out of steel, concrete, and pre-cast stone, the replica is etched with such intricate details that you won't even realize the difference from the iconic Italian landmark.
A Hidden Water Tower
So, you may wonder, why exactly is there a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Illinois?
According to the Niles' website, in the 1920s, a successful businessman named Robert Ilg built a 22-acre park that consisted of two outdoor pools. The large pools needed to be supplied by a huge water tank, however, Ilg was worried about maintaining the natural beauty of the area. As a solution, he decided to build a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in order to hide the unsightly water tower. He dedicated it to the Italian scientist Galileo.
Once the tower began to show signs of aging, the upkeep became costly. In 1991, the village of Niles made a "sister city pact" with Pisa, Italy. In 1995, it began its $1.2 million renovation project in which cracks in the concrete were repaired, lights were added, and a plaza consisting of two fountains, a reflecting pool, and landscaping was built. The tower was officially dedicated in 1997.
Hear the Ringing of the Bells
Inside the very top of the tower are seven restored bells that chime at certain times throughout the day. For several minutes at top of the hour at 9:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m., the bells chime to the tune of familiar songs like "Red River Valley," "On Top of Old Smokey," and "My Favorite Things" among others. There is also a clock chime that will ding every 15 minutes.
During the restoration of the bells, two of them could not be reused. Those bells can be seen on display in the plaza giving visitors a close-up look at the old age of the bells. Each of the bells weighs anywhere from 150 to 604 pounds.
National Recognition and a Promising Future
On April 12, 2019, the Tower became officially recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. With federal recognition, the replica with be protected by the State and make it eligible for federal funding to maintain its upkeep. The Village of Niles is hoping to expand the Tower's attraction by opening up for inside tours and allowing visitors to climb to the top.
There is no doubt this is one of the coolest attractions I have ever seen and is definitely worth the stop for pictures or even a picnic lunch on the plaza!