LEANING TOWER OF PISA - Reopens after 10 years

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Pisa's Leaning Tower reopens to public after decade-long renovation to fix the tilt

By Alessandra Rizzo, Associated Press, 12/15/2001 15:53

PISA, Italy (AP) After a $27 million realignment that dragged on over a decade, visitors are once again making the dizzying climb up Pisa's Leaning Tower.

The tower reopened to the public Saturday, a little less off center but still confounding visitors.

''I thought it was amazing and at the same time frightening!'' marveled Richard Colbourne, a New York-based graphic designer. ''I still have a headache!''

When the tower closed in 1990, officials said it would be open again in just a few years. The ambitious plan to reverse some of the tilt to ensure it wouldn't topple at first regarded with some skepticism took far longer than expected.

Engineers shaved off 17 inches and guided the monument back to where it was in 1838. The tower now leans 13.5 feet off the perpendicular, and is not expected to return to its 1990 position for another three centuries.

The reopening was relatively low-key, out of deference to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Alfredo Bianchi of Milan was one of nine passers-by picked to make the inaugural climb.

''I knew it was opening today, but I couldn't imagine I would be so lucky,'' Bianchi said as he took in the view of the red-roofed city surrounded by rolling hills.

Others had to wait in line after the tower opened to the general public, but that didn't seem to bother Bob Roth, of Loveland, Colo., who took his daughter, son and two nieces up.

''It was much more spectacular than I thought it would be.'' he said. But he too was feeling the effects: ''I felt dizzy going up and I still feel dizzy after coming down.''

Construction on the 190-foot-high tower began in 1173 to celebrate the glory of Pisa, in those years a wealthy maritime republic.

The soil underneath its foundations began sinking before workers completed the third level, starting its centuries-long famous tilt. The builders forged ahead, however, completing it in 1360.

The renovation included attaching a pair of steel ''suspenders'' to the tower, and then excavating soil under its foundations to try to realign it. The tower's seven bronze bells were stilled for fear that their vibrations would threaten the tower's stability.

''Today is a very important day,'' said Pier Francesco Pacini, the head of the committee in charge of the monument. Ten years ago, ''many Pisans were saying: 'We'll never be able to go back up again,''' he said.

However, the days of unlimited visitors filling the monument's 293-step staircase are over. Guided tours of about 40 minutes for groups of up to 30 people will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, with admission prices set at $13.30.

''The tower has recovered, but like elderly people it needs treatment,'' said Michele Jamiolkowski, the head of the project.

He also said the tower's marble still needs to be restored, a project estimated to cost $4.3 million. The hope is the government will finance it.

Since being closed to tourists, only a handful of people have been inside the tower, which is on UNESCO's World Heritage List and which Mark Twain once called ''the strangest structure the world has any knowledge of.''

Among them was British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who often vacations in Tuscany, and first lady Laura Bush, who during a visit last summer struck the typical tourist pose, standing beside the leaning monument pretending to hold it up.

-- Anonymous, December 15, 2001

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