Italy’s Medieval ‘Skyscraper’ Is at Risk of Sinking

The closures are impacting all surrounding streets, which the city’s mayor, Matteo Lepore, claims has little to do with safety concerns. Speaking at a city council meeting on Monday, Lepore said the restrictions were enacted so that the city could “conduct further monitoring and install sensors…to have definitive information about the state of health of the Garisenda.” Acoustic sensors were placed beneath the tower to capture any stress noises (such as cracks), and a pendulum was installed to track any unusual swaying (all skyscrapers of a certain height move in the wind).

However, some fear this isn’t enough. Lucia Borgonzoni, an undersecretary for Italy’s ministry of culture, has expressed views that Lepore, a center-left Democrat, hasn’t done enough to save the tower. Borgonzoni—who represents the right-wing Northern League—ran for mayor of the city in 2016 and president of the region in 2019, but she lost both races. Borgonzoni told local papers that she feels the committee monitoring the tower for the past five years have “underestimated the situation.”

During the Monday council meeting, Lepore said he would abstain from political debates about the situation. “Not because I don’t want to participate,” he said, “but because I believe that when there are important decisions to be made, including doing the right thing from an institutional point of view, it should be done calmly and with a clear conscience.”

Garisenda, one of two towers in the city, has stood since the year 1119. Subsidence has been a concern for the tower for years. It was once about 200 feet tall, but was lowered in the 14th century to about 156 feet, following worries regarding the unstable ground beneath. It leans at an angle of about four degrees, which is a very similar tilt to Italy’s most famous angled building, the Leaning Tower of Pisa (currently slanted at an angle just under four degrees).

The area will remained closed until Friday so that officials can monitor for signs of stress or other fractures.

Photo: Alberto Masnovo/Getty Images

Still, skyscrapers in Italy are not the only ones facing subsidence. San Francisco’s Millennium Tower is sinking at a rate of about three inches per year, while The Crooked House—a pub in England—slowly sank throughout the 19th century until one half of the building sat about four feet lower than the other. (It burned down in August of 2023.) Champlain Towers South—a condominium in Surfside, Florida, that collapsed in 2020—showed evidence of subsidence since the ’90s, though experts agree that this alone was not the reason the building fell.

According to Mayor Lepore’s speech at the Bologna City Council meeting, the area surrounding Garisenda will remain closed until Friday. He also noted that, no matter what the sensors and monitors show, he is determined to preserve the tower in the safest way possible. “[Garisenda is] a symbol of our city along with the Asinelli tower,” he said, adding that he would “protect the Garisenda as a monument.”

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