Leaning Tower's tilt is fixed

Sunday, December 16, 2001

PISA, Italy -- Its long-stilled bronze bells ringing again, Pisa's Leaning Tower reopened its doors and dizzying stairway to the public Saturday after a decade-long renovation to reduce the famed tower's tilt.

Alfredo Bianchi of Milan was one of the first visitors to climb to the bell tower's eighth and highest story and catch the breathtaking view of Pisa's cathedral.

"You can't explain what it feels like, you have to try it for yourself!" he said. "I knew it was opening today, but I couldn't imagine I would be so lucky."

Lucky indeed. In addition to being randomly chosen for one of the inaugural climbs as he strolled in the tower's piazza, Bianchi and nine other first-climbers also didn't have to pay the $13.30 that visitors must pay from now on.

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.

When the tower closed in 1990 for renovations, officials said it would be open again in just a few years. The ambitious plan to shave off some of the tilt -- at first regarded with some skepticism -- took far longer than expected, but it eventually succeeded.

The renovation plan included attaching a pair of steel "suspenders" to the tower, and then excavating soil under its foundations to try to realign it. Over the course of the renovation, engineers shaved 17 inches off the tower's 1990 lean and guided the monument back to where it was in 1838.

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