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Saturday, December 12, 1998 Published at 22:48 GMT

World: Europe

Leaning Tower to straighten up

Pisa: 700 years at an angle

A rescue bid for one of the world's most famous landmarks - Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa - has begun after delays due to bad weather.

The BBC's Orla Guerin reports on the latest plans to save the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Experts say the 800-year old structure could otherwise collapse in the next 20 years.

In a complex eight-month engineering project, four steel "suspenders" will be attached to the tower to stop it toppling over.

And the plans involve removing soil from beneath the tower, coaxing it to slip into a fractionally more upright position.

[ image: The tower's tilt guarantees its appeal with tourists]
The tower's tilt guarantees its appeal with tourists
Officials cautiously predicted on Saturday it could be reopened next year after almost a decade closed to the public.

But critics say the plan could destabilise the fragile structure even more. Such attitudes are also typical among the local population.

"Many people here see the tower as something miraculous and think it should be left alone," said Valeria Caldelli, a Pisa resident and journalist.

"They see it as having its own soul. They think that if you touch it, you offend it."

Orla Guerin in Rome: "This time the experts are taking no chances."
The engineer overseeing the work, Paolo Heiniger, says two sets of 50mm thick braces had been moved to the base of the 12th-century belltower.

The four steel cables are there to ensure it does not topple. The impromptu safety belt was devised by experts after the last bid to save the tower, actually made things worse.

In 1995, the medieval monument suddenly lurched 2.5mm in one night - about 10% of the lean that the commission had corrected since 1990.

Pisa's tower developed its distinctive lean in the spongy Tuscan subsoil during the 12th century.

It now slouches five metres, and has sunk about three metres into the ground.

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