Authorities in the Italian city of Bologna have cordoned off a tilting 12th century tower over fears that it could collapse.
Work has started on a metal barrier around the Garisenda Tower, which leans at almost the same angle as the more famous tower of Pisa, after local authorities described the situation as “highly critical”.
The barrier will be made up of a 5m fence, as well as rock-fall nets designed to catch debris that could cascade down and damage other buildings or strike unwitting pedestrians.
Authorities have said that the safety construction will be completed early next year, describing it as “the first phase” of making the building safe.
Experts who have been tasked with assessing the viability of the 900-year-old structure have struck a more pessimistic note on its long-term future, however.
A report that was finalised in November described the building as having been in an “inescapably critical condition for some time”.
The report also concluded that previous attempts to buttress the tower’s foundations with steel rods had made the situation worse.
The tower has been cordoned off since October, when the city mayor ordered closer examination of its safety. The report came to the worrying conclusion that the tower had begun to lean in a different direction.
A city spokesperson told US broadcaster CNN that no one can tell when the building will finally fall down.
“We’re acting as if it’s about to collapse, but nobody knows when that could be – it could be three months, 10 years, or 20 years,” he said.
The Garisenda Tower – 154ft high – is the smaller of twin iconic turrets that dominate the skyline of Bologna’s mediaeval old town.
The taller Asinelli Tower is roughly double the height but leans less precipitously and is still open to tourists to climb.
At the time of construction in the 12th century, Bologna resembled a mediaeval Manhattan, in which wealthy families competed with one another to own the most prominent building.
While most of the turrets have since collapsed or been repurposed at a smaller scale, over a dozen still remain to this day.