Leaning Tower of Pisa goes straight

THE LEANING tower of Pisa has stopped leaning. Lead ingots and a giant steel girdle have, in the last fortnight, halted its seemingly relentless progressive tilt, rendering it stable for the first time in its 800-year history.

Professor John Burland is the only British scientist on the tower's 14-strong restoration committee, which has spent months trying to coax the tower to a standstill in a complex civil engineering operation. He said yesterday: 'In the past few days we had confirmation . . . we have stabilised the tower.'

Work began on building the tower, the campanile or bell tower of Pisa Cathedral and the world's most famous lopsided monument, in 1173 and took 200 years to complete. It has been moving from the start, but an increase in its rate of tilt in recent years led to its closure to the public in 1989.

Professor Burland, professor of soil mechanics at Imperial College London, is elated by his success and confident it is now safe enough for the authorities to allow tourists access. 'We have stabilised the tower, so it would be entirely safe and in my personal view politically a very good thing to allow people back,' he said. 'The risk of imminent toppling over has been removed. This is the first good news for the tower for 800 years.'

The tower is 58.4 metres high and weighs 14,700 tonnes. 'It rests on a very soft foundation and has been moving around from the word go,' Professor Burland said. The tower has moved downwards by about three metres since it was built. It was closed after its tilt, currently standing at five and a half degrees, began increasing by 1/600th of a degree annually.

The first part of the operation to stabilise it was completed a year ago, with the tower circled by lightly pre-stressed cables to help prevent the masonry cracking.

Then in July, the restoration team began laying 600 tonnes of lead ingots on top of the raised foundations to the north of the tower, opposite to the side that is leaning.

The last ingot was laid 10 days ago and according to Professor Burland, not only has the tower stabilised but it has even moved back by one centimetre at the top.

'Our philosophy has always been to increase the stability of the tower in the short term to give us time to develop a permanent solution without the constant fear of the damn thing coming down on us,' he said.

'The leaning side is highly stressed and we were very concerned about that exploding. Our calculations showed it was accelerating and that the stability was marginal.'

In civil engineering terms, Professor Burland explained that his temporary measures as having increased the chances of the tower not overturning by 15 per cent.

He will now begin trials on a permanent solution. There are two possible approaches, both of which rely on inducing subsidence on the north side of the tower. The aim is to decrease the inclination by between half and one degree - 'enough to make the tower stable for hundreds of years'. This could take another four to five years.

'The situation in Italy has never been easy,' the professor said. 'The bureaucratic difficulties are immense. But the situation now is much more positive than it has ever been.'

The restoration committee meets at the end of March, when it is expected to discuss the issue of public access. The tower is packed with highly sensitive monitoring equipment, so scientists would have very early warning should the traffic of people threaten to cause damage to the tower.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us