Officials in Bologna, Italy have urgently cordoned off the landmark 12th century Garisenda tower due to fears it is on the verge of collapse. The medieval tower, which leans significantly due to foundational issues, was deemed to be in a "highly critical" state following recent instability and movement. An exclusion zone has been set up and stabilization efforts are underway as experts warn the tower could topple over imminently.
The 58-meter (190-foot) tower has been tilting precariously for centuries, but officials said the lean has now reached an extremely dangerous level. Recent measurements found the tower has shifted significantly in the past few months. Authorities warned that just a few centimeters of additional movement could cause the entire structure to crumble.
Bologna’s mayor Matteo Lepore said the area surrounding the tower has been sealed off as a safety precaution until emergency stabilization work can be completed. He said the tower has long faced threats from soil erosion and instability issues, but is now at the highest risk of collapse since monitoring began.
Lead Up to Current Emergency Status
The Garisenda tower was built in the early 12th century as one of Bologna’s original skyscrapers, along with its nearby twin towers the Asinelli. From the outset, issues arose with the tower’s foundations which caused it to tilt. Over the past nine centuries the problem has continually worsened, requiring various efforts to prevent the tower from toppling over. By the 14th century the tower had already visibly leaned approximately two meters.
Structural reinforcements and supports were added in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to try keeping the tower upright. In the 1960s a concrete base was constructed in an attempt to stabilize the foundations. And in 1989 steel bands were wrapped around the tower to provide additional structural bracing.
Most recently in 2014, significant restoration work was undertaken to try counteracting the lean and deterioration, including installing subterranean cement micropiles. However despite all interventions across the centuries, the tower has continued to tilt at an accelerating rate.
Garisenda now tilts nearly 4 meters off perpendicular, giving it a greater slant than even the famously leaning tower of Pisa. The structure leans northwest, hanging precariously over the city streets below its towering height.
Recent Rapid Tilting Raises Imminent Collapse Fears
Bologna authorities said while Garisenda has always posed some degree of risk, emergency action was prompted after recent measurements found rapid accelerating tilt changes over the past year. Officials said the tower has tilted several additional centimeters just since this summer, destabilizing the structure.
Geological surveys identified the primary drivers as erosion of clay soils under part of the foundation, along with infiltration of rainwater further washing away soils. The eroded and softened ground has allowed the centuries-old foundational issues to now manifest in suddenLean greater shifting of the heavy masonry tower.
Authorities warned the structure has now far surpassed maximum safety thresholds, with the angle of lean reaching a extremely precarious point. Mayor Lepore said even air turbulence from a passing truck could trigger catastrophic collapse under the present conditions. He said disaster preparation agencies have been placed on standby to respond if the tower does suddenly topple.
Emergency Stabilization Efforts
With warnings the tower could fall at any moment, authorities have urgently launched emergency stabilization efforts. Access to the zone around Garisenda has been cut off to protect the public from harm in a potential collapse.
Engineers have moved stabilization equipment on site as they undertake delicate work to try preventing catastrophic failure. Authorities said the operation will focus on urgently reinforcing eroded soils under part of the foundation to take pressure off the destabilized leaning side.
Crews have begun drilling cement pilings deep under the north side of the tower’s base, working to shore up the compromised soils. They will then inject binding agents to harden the ground in hopes of stopping further erosion and shift. Further supports will be erected against the tower to provide additional bracing as the stabilization work continues over the coming days.
Officials warned even with round-the-clock emergency efforts, there is no guarantee a collapse can be prevented. The public has been advised to avoid the cordoned-off zone around the tower. Lepore said if the work fails and Garisenda does collapse, surrounding medieval buildings could also be at risk of damage.
Impacts on Tourism and Cultural Loss
Beyond disaster concerns, officials said they are also worried about impacts to Bologna’s tourism industry and economy. Garisenda is one of the iconic landmarks representing the medieval architecture and history of the city.
If the tower collapse cannot be prevented, it would represent a major cultural loss and blow to civic pride. Bologna’s mayor said losing such a historied treasure would be agonizing. "It would be a trauma for the city…very serious and sad," Lepore noted.
The emergency situation is already deterring visitors, with tourist access to the structure blocked off. Nearby shops and restaurants have also been forced to close. Business owners said the commotion is keeping customers away right in the middle of peak holiday tourism season, and are hoping the issue does not drag on.
Officials plan to offer economic assistance to affected merchants if a prolonged closure or collapse impact emerges. But all focus presently remains on the dangerous structural predicament of the endangered medieval tower.
Background on Garisenda Tower
- Built between 1109 – 1119 CE as a residential skyscraper tower
- Originally stood at 60 m (197 ft) but upper floors later removed
- One of a pair of towers built by Filippo Asinelli
- Lean caused by subsiding soils and foundation issues
- Has required constant structural interventions across the centuries
- Now leans 3.97 m (13 ft) off perpendicular
- Located in central Bologna along city’s iconic skyscraper avenue
- Major tourism attraction representing medieval architecture
- Height: 58 m (190 ft)
- Lean: 3.97 m (13 ft)
- Age: Over 900 years old (12th century)
- Location: Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
- Architect: Unknown (commissioned by Asinelli family)
- Built: 1109 – 1119 CE
- Purpose: Originally residential tower home
What Could Happen Next
Authorities have warned that Garisenda could collapse with almost no further warning. If stabilization efforts fail over the coming days, the tower will likely fully topple over, crashing down onto the surrounded medieval buildings and streets. This would risk harming people nearby and would cause extensive damage.
Beyond the immediate disaster impacts, the loss of such an important historic and cultural monument would be agonizing for Bologna and Italy. The leaning tower has become an iconic representation of the city across the world. Losing this Instagram-famous landmark would carry a painful economic blow to tourism as well.
Officials have vowed to do everything possible to save the precarious structure. But with warnings the collapse danger is now measured in just centimeters, the coming days will be crucial in determining whether this storied medieval tower can be recovered from the brink.
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