From One Leaning Tower to Another, Tips to Stop the Tilt

Leaning for centuries at a worrisome tilt, the Garisenda Tower in Bologna has endured insults and trauma. Dickens called it “sufficiently unsightly,” if extraordinary, while Goethe said it was “a spectacle that disgusts.” And then there were the earthquakes, the Allied bombing raids of the city during World War II and urbanization that doomed other towers.

The Garisenda has stood through it all, a beloved symbol of this medieval city, a reminder of a past when important families or communities would erect towers to remind others of their status, and for defense.

But now, the Garisenda is in trouble.

After sensors attached to the monument, which leans at a 3.6 degree angle, picked up “anomalous movements” last year, alarmed experts issued what one called an “engineering code red.”

In October, the Garisenda was cordoned off, with bright red protective barriers set up along part of its perimeter to limit the damage should the tower tumble, and a group of experts got to work on plans to safeguard it for the future, while watching for signs of imminent trouble.

“It’s like a patient in intensive care, there are 64 instruments that continually monitor its vital signs,” said Gilberto Dallavalle, a structural engineer responsible for the interventions to stabilize the 157-foot tower since 1997.

He and other experts called in to try to safeguard the tower have now put forward a solution, looking to another famous leaning tower for the answer. Bologna’s mayor, Matteo Lepore, announced last week that the city would adopt a temporary system of pylons and cables that proved a success in Pisa, where the most famous leaning tower is.

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