Preservation Efforts Are Underway for Italy’s Leaning Tower (No, Not That One)

Officials in Bologna, Italy have announced a $4.7 million plan to shore up the Garisenda Tower.

The view of the Garisenda tower from Via San Vitale, closed to traffic on November 6, 2023. Photo: Michele Lapini/Getty Images.

The area around a leaning tower in Italy—not that one—has been secured by officials, who fear that the structure is on the verge of collapsing. 

The Garisenda is one of Two Towers, built between 1109 and 1119, located in the heart of Bologna. At 157 feet high, it dwarfs its neighboring tower, the Asinelli, which stands at 230 feet, though both are leaning. The Garisenda, however, has a greater tilt, pitching at a four-degree angle. 

In October, the site of the towers was closed when sensors indicated changes in the angle of the Garisenda tower and a weakening of its base, according to the BBC. The city’s council has since maintained a yellow alert around the towers—denoting caution, not imminent danger—and mapped out a civil protection plan to better preserve the monument. 

On November 29, Bologna announced a €4.3 million ($4.7 million) project to shore up the Garisenda, as part of “the first phase of making it safe.” Works will include the building of a “protective belt” to catch debris and shield surrounding buildings and people, should the tower collapse. The barrier will also be installed with metal rockfall nets designed with ground anchoring systems.

Construction is expected to begin early next year. The city has also launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance the conservation efforts, while its mayor, Matteo Lepore, is petitioning for UNESCO to appoint the towers world heritage sites. 

Aerial view of the old town of Bologna with the domes of San Bartolomeo, and the towers of Asinelli and Garisenda (right). Photo: DEA / A. Vergani / Getty Images.

“We’re not intervening because we think it could collapse at any moment; we’re intervening because we want to make it safe and restore it,” Lepore told The Guardian. He added that the preservation project called on “commitment from the entire city and from those all over the world who love Bologna and one of its most important symbols.” 

The Garisenda, likely named after the family that built it, initially reached a height of about 200 feet, but was lowered in the 14th century due to a yielding of the ground that brought on its lean. During the Medieval era, the installation of ironwork and bakery ovens within the building caused further damage. 

Over the centuries, the tower has been immortalized in poetry and literature by the likes of Goethe, Giosuè Carducci, and Charles Dickens. A plaque on the Garisenda commemorates one of its mentions in Dante’s sonnet in The Divine Comedy: “Just as the Garisenda seems when seen / beneath the leaning side, when clouds run past / and it hangs down as if about to crash.”

 

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