Pisa tower to lean less
December 12, 1998
Web posted at: 9:20 a.m. EST (1420 GMT)
PISA, Italy (CNN) - After years of indecision, city officials
have initiated a bold plan to prevent the Leaning Tower of
Pisa from toppling. They cautiously predicted on Saturday the
popular tourist attraction could open to the public next year
for the first time in almost a decade.
Workers attached giant steel braces to the 700-year-old
marble monument this week to protect it during excavation
planned to start next month.
Workers will remove dirt from the north side to stabilize the
bell tower and ease it gradually toward a perpendicular
position. The process should take six to eight months, said
Michele Jamiolkowski, head of the commission safeguarding the
"From a technical point of view, we don't believe there will
be any more obstacles to visiting the tower," Jamiolkowski
|CNN's Gayle Young reports on the leaning tower
Started in 1173 as a belfry for a nearby cathedral, the 58-
meter (189 feet), 150,000-ton white monument began listing to
the south when a third story was added in 1274. It was
completed in 1350.
Built on spongy Tuscan marshland, it now leans six degrees or
five meters (16 feet), has sunk about three meters (10 feet)
and been shut to tourists since 1990.
The excavation is supposed to reduce the tilt by half a degree, or
one-eleventh of its current inclination, which will be
invisible to the naked eye, Jamiolkowski said.
If all goes according to plan, preliminary excavation --
through small sloping holes under the tower's north side --
will begin in early January and last six to eight weeks, he
Visitors watched from the ground Saturday as a handful of
workers in blue overalls girded the monument at its second
segment, 23 meters (77 feet) up, applying wooden planks to
the body of the bell tower before attaching cabling on top.
The current solution is similar to staking a plant
The cables should be in place by the end of next week.
The usual throng of tourists crowded Pisa's Campo dei
Miracoli (Field of Miracles), home to the picturesque tower,
cathedral and baptistry.
Some thought the cranes were there because the tower was
about to fall. Others needlessly worried that the historic
tower, where legend has it Galileo tested his theories about
falling objects, would be completely straightened.
Locals were there as well, curious but skeptical about the
latest plan to save their bell tower.
"How many earthquakes has the tower withstood? Dozens," said
Tuscan artist Andrea Nidiaci. "You don't need to do anything
to save it. It has already survived more than 800 years."
Such attitudes are typical among the local population, said
Valeria Caldelli, a Pisa resident and journalist.
"Many people here see the tower as something miraculous and
think it should be left alone," she said. "They see it as
having its own soul. They think that if you touch it, you
Testament to past failed attempts to cure the ailing tower
are the lead blocks stacked at its north side -- hastily
installed to counterbalance the monument after a doomed 1995
attempt to freeze the surrounding earth and limit its movement.
That salvage attempt sent the graceful tower lurching 2.5 millimeters (0.07 inches) in just one night, about 10 percent of the
lean that the Pisa Commission had corrected since 1990.
And what if the current plan backfires and the tower topples?
"If we did nothing that would happen. The worst we could do
is nothing," said John Burland, a professor of soil mechanics
from London who worked on the tower restoration plan.
Laura Frangioloi, whose family has run a souvenir stand in
front of the tower for more than 30 years, frets that "if it
collapses, we might as well all go home."