Art Around the World

Leaning Tower of Pisa to Straighten Up

By Tom Gross, July 03, 2001

After a decade of closure, the Leaning Tower of Pisa commonly regarded as one of the great wonders of the world has reopened last weekend. However, to make sure the chances of its collapsing are now minimized, the general public will not be allowed to visit until safety barriers have been put in place in November, and even then no more than 450 people will be admitted each day, in groups of about 30 and accompanied by a guide. The reopening follows eleven years of restoration and preservation work to make sure the delicate building doesn’t fall over, and two weeks of successful recent trial visits in which only children were used because they weigh less than adults.

The marble-clad Tuscan tower, which began to tilt in 1185, just twelve years after the foundations were laid, had been closed since 1990 due to safety fears. In the year before it closed, more than a million people climbed its 293 steps, and the gravity-defying tower that has fascinated scientists and filled art-lovers with alarm throughout the centuries, appeared to be on the verge of collapse.

Now, after 800 years and 17 previous failed attempts to straighten the tower (some of which made the slant worse), it is leaning a little bit less. International experts have succeeded in reducing the tower’s incline by about 18 inches (45 cm), and the giant steel cables and 830 tons of lead weights that have held the tower steady since 1991 (creating somewhat of an eyesore), have finally been removed.

Professor Michele Jamiolkowski, who headed the international committee of experts overseeing the multi-million dollar salvage operation, dubbed the ‘Lean Team’ said “We have added three more centuries to its life. Once the final stage of the operation is complete, the Tower’s slant will be similar to that of Renaissance times when Galileo [who was born in Pisa] dropped lead balls off the side to test his theories of physics.”

Nevertheless, the reopened leaning tower may be only for the lean. One official told PaintingsDirect that overweight tourists might have to be banned from climbing to the top of its spiral staircase.

One group in particular will be relieved by Professor Jamiolkowski’s assurances that although the Tower will be straighter, tourists won’t be able to spot the difference. This will no doubt be welcome news to vendors, who will be relieved that they won’t have to change the souvenirs they hawk!

Article copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.