One of the world’s most popular and most photographed landmarks – the Leaning Tower of Pisa – is losing its lean and, possibly, its appeal.
Built in 1173 as a symbol of the power of the maritime republic of Pisa in the Middle Ages, the medieval tower has leaned to one side ever since construction began, due to the sandy soil on which it was built.
By 1990, the tower leaned some 4m off its perpendicular – a six-degree tilt – and for fear it would actually fall, it was closed for the first time in 800 years.
Corrective work began on the tower and after engineers corrected the lean by 45cm, it was reopened to the public in 2001. However, behind the scenes, work continued in an effort to straighten the tower even more.
And now, after more than 20 years of efforts by engineers positioning pipes with drills and removing soil from the opposite side of the tilt, the structural health of the famous landmark has improved far more than originally predicted.
“With the missing soil under its base, the tower has reacted by straightening up, recovering the tilt and thus rejuvenating after all the years that caused it to lean and to reach a critical position, which was becoming worrisome,” said Roberto Cela, who worked on the maintenance of the tower.
The tower, which attracts thousands of tourists every day, is now back to the tilt it had at the beginning of the 19th century.
“The reduction of the tilt will not last forever – but it’s very significant and now we have good reasons to hope that the tower can last for at least another 200 years,” said professor Salvatore Settis, who leads the surveillance group of the monument.
“Technically, it has been an incredibly complex work – but the concept of the project is easy to understand,” said Settis.
“The tower is leaning towards the south, so part of the soil under the northern side, basically sand and clay, was eliminated, creating cavities that the weight of the tower is now closing.”
Pisa’s most famous landmark is now in danger of defying its name, and potentially losing its appeal. Most likely, tourists won’t even notice the difference, but for the engineers who’ve been painstakingly working on saving the leaning tower from falling, the tilt reduction – even by these few inches – is truly a remarkable achievement.
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