Italy’s other leaning tower, in Bologna, in danger of falling | Culture


The Garisenda tower, one of the best-known symbols of Bologna, has been oscillating more than normal for some weeks. The medieval construction is inclined, like its counterpart in Pisa, but the atypical sway that has been perceived in recent records by the technicians who periodically control its stability raises fears that it could collapse, so the local authorities have begun to build a barrier of five meters high around the tower to protect passers-by and nearby buildings in case of falling stones or to contain debris in the event of a collapse. The city’s mayor, Matteo Lepore, has described the situation as “very critical.” Construction work on the fence will be completed early next year, while the tower and the square beneath it are expected to remain closed for several years while restoration work is carried out.

The Garisenda, cited by Dante in the Divine Comedy and other of his works, together with the Asinelli, forms the most emblematic group of towers on the Bologna skyline. Both are inclined: the Asinelli is just over 97 meters high and until recently visitors could climb to the top, while the Garisenda is lower, 48 meters, but leans more due to the subsidence of the foundation floor. . It was built around the year 1109 and was originally 60 meters high, but due to its inclination it was lowered 12 meters in 1353.

A team of technicians from the superintendency and the City Council have been recording the movements of the towers for years to prevent possible stability problems. In 2018, controls were increased, with the creation of a scientific committee made up of engineers, geologists and other experts, which constantly evaluates the data obtained.

In recent months, the sensors detected abnormal noises, oscillations, vibrations and small movements. Although the anomalies are not obvious to the naked eye, because they involve displacements of just a few millimeters, they are significant for such a delicate construction. The inspections also discovered that the materials at the base of the construction were deteriorated. In October the technicians asked the City Council to take measures to protect the tower. The mayor then ordered to limit traffic around the monument to avoid excessive vibrations and cleared the surrounding area to better study the structure and observe the oscillations with greater precision.

Barrier placed at the base of the medieval Garisenda tower to prevent the risk of collapse.
Barrier placed at the base of the medieval Garisenda tower to prevent the risk of collapse.JENNIFER LORENZINI (REUTERS)

The City Council has explained that the works that have just begun represent the first phase of the plan to stabilize the tower and make it safe. The technicians have not yet reached an agreement and are still debating the next steps to resolve the situation definitively. In recent weeks, they have been preparing a report in which they will take stock of the data collected in recent years, the anomalies of recent months and, above all, they will propose what to do. Local media report that the main problem with the tower is the twisting, which seems to have changed direction: it now points south, towards the Asinelli tower, which represents a different and faster movement than that recorded in recent years. .

A barrier of 4.3 million euros

The council estimates that the barrier alone to surround the Garisenda will cost 4.3 million euros. For this reason, on November 24, he launched a fundraising campaign to pay for the restoration of this tower and also that of Asinelli. In just under a week, the initial goal of 800,000 euros was reached, so the mayor, moved by the excellent result of this initiative, has raised the goal to three million euros, which he hopes to achieve in the coming months.

Lepore explained that many donations come from companies, but private citizens have also participated, who will receive tax benefits for the donation. The mayor has assured that private resources will make it possible to “speed up” the restoration works of both towers. This collection system has already been used in the past, for example, to restore the Neptune fountain, which cost close to half a million euros. Lepor has stressed that the project to save the tower represents an “extraordinary challenge” that will require “the commitment of the entire city and those around the world who love Bologna and one of its most important symbols.”

In recent years, various interventions were carried out to ensure greater stability of the Garisenda tower. In 2020, high-strength steel straps were placed around the tower to compress the base, the central part of which is made of a mixture of mortar, pieces of terracotta blocks and river pebbles.

Furthermore, over the years, various interventions have been proposed that have not yet been implemented. One of these projects consists of injecting mortar to fill the gaps inside the structure and consolidate it. However, engineers warn that not just any mortar can be used, since one must be chosen that is compatible with the tower’s original materials and they assure that choosing the type of material will take a long time. Following a complaint filed in November by opposition councilors from the far-right Brothers of Italy party, the Bologna prosecutor’s office is investigating possible omissions or delays in the care of the tower.

Meanwhile, the City Council has prepared a count of the inhabitants who live near the tower, in what is defined as the “red zone.” According to their data, there are 459 people, 46 of whom are under 10 years old. Local police officers have been ringing the doorbells of all homes to distribute leaflets on what to do in case of danger and collect citizens’ mobile phone numbers. The council’s emergency plan plans to inform all residents with messages, in addition to sirens and public address systems. Several meeting points have also been identified in case of evacuation in some nearby squares and it has been established that evacuees will be accommodated in a library and at the bus station.

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