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Children love history because it is endlessly fascinating, made up of the actions of people and events from the past. One aspect of the subject that always captures pupils’ imaginations are the many bizarre stories from history.

Here are five of our favourites:

1. The Leaning Tower of Pisa has never stood straight

The world’s best known wonky building: The Leaning Tower of Pisa, has never stood straight.

Soon after building started in 1173, it became clear the foundations were poor – the construction began to subside and the tower started to lean. Construction was stopped, and only restarted almost a century later. Recent restoration work has reduced the angle of the lean which today stands at 3.99 degrees, meaning the top of the tower is displaced horizontally by almost 4 metres.


Great fire of London2. Less than 10 people were officially killed in the Great Fire of London

The Great Fire of London of 1666 destroyed the homes of 90% of the city’s inhabitants – that’s around 70,000 of the 80,000 people who lived in England’s capital city at the time. But, despite the extent of the destruction, officially only six to eight people were reported as having been killed.

Historians believe the number of deaths to be much higher – from several hundred to over a thousand – but the vast majority of these people were never reported and their remains lost.


3. Did Caligula want to make his favourite horse a senator?

Many stories exist about the eccentric behaviour of Caligula who was Roman emperor from AD 37 to AD 41 with the few surviving sources about his reign, mostly focussing on his cruelty, extravagance and insanity. According to the historian Suetonius, Caligula’s favourite horse Incitatus was pampered upon belief and lived in a stable made of marble, and slept in an ivory manger.

He was also said to have named the horse to the Senate. Whilst this seemed the move of a mad man, some have interpreted this action as a criticism of the Senate – the inference being that they were no more capable at their job than an animal.


4. Santa Anna held a state funeral for his amputated leg

If you think Caligula was attached to his favourite horse, then spare a thought for the president of Mexico, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, who in 1838 had his leg amputated and several years later ordered a full military burial for it. Doctors were forced to amputate Santa Anna’s leg after it was damaged beyond repair fighting the French. Several years later it was exhumed and given a state funeral that included cannon salvos.

A few years after this, however, when the president’s popularity was on the wane, the withered limb was dug up once more by rioters who dragged it through the streets of Mexico City on the end of a rope.


5. The shortest war on record lasted 38 minutes

The shortest war on record is widely regarded as the Anglo-Zanzibar war of 1896, which is on record as lasting an exhausting 38 minutes.

The conflict came about after Khalid bin Barghash declared himself Sultan of the island without British approval. Khalid amassed 3,000 troops at his palace but they were no match for the four British gunships anchored in the nearby harbour. The ships guns started at 9am on August 27thand 38 minutes later the Sultan’s flag was taken down. Remarkably in that short time over 500 of Khalid’s fighters were killed or wounded.


To find out more about how Portals to the Past can enhance your history teaching call us on 0800 112 3192 or contact us.