The Italian Almanac

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the leaning tower of Pisa

Leaning Back

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is back to its dazzling white best and finally free of unsightly scaffolding for the joy of visitors to one of Italy's most-loved attractions. The last of the scaffolding used for a 20-year facelift came down and the once-toppling marble giant is "safe for years to come," officials said.

A colour photo of the newly resplendent icon, scrubbed clean of dirt, graffiti, and the effects of rising smog and centuries of wear-and-tear, was splashed across the front page of Italy's biggest daily Corriere della Sera. "Piazza dei Miracoli (the square housing the monument) returns to its age-old splendour," it announced.

The scaffolding has been removed after the tower got a clean bill of health recently. After a visit from Italy's public works chief, Francesco Karrer, experts said it was "healthier than ever" and showed no signs of tilting any farther. Karrer was shown a barrage of sensors installed in the monument to monitor its condition. The tower's surveillance body, headed by famed archeologist Salvatore Settis, said the latest round of work to keep the tower safe and clean was producing "excellent results".

Despite the ongoing work, visitors were still able to climb to the top of the 56-metre tower. The tower was saved from toppling in a decade-long engineering project in the 1990s, reopening to the public in December 2001. The reopening was made possible thanks to a 53-billion-lire (27-million-euro) project - involving steel girdles, lead weights, and a heap of digging - that straightened the tower by 40cm, hauling it back to the position it had in the mid-19th century. Before the efforts to fix the lean, the eight-storey tower was adding an average of 1mm a year to its 4.5-metre lean out of the perpendicular.

The tower was begun in 1174 but was only completed in 1350, when its tilt was already about half what it is today. In a 2005 check-up on the tower's health, experts pronounced it safe for the next 300 years.