The Leaning Tower of Pisa Just Got a Little Bit Straighter

Flickr/Neil Howard

Pisa’s famous bell tower has just lost a little bit of its lean, according to a new report by researchers. The Italian tower, which has been tilting perilously for more than 800 years, has straightened by 2.5cm (1 inch) since 2001 thanks to a massive restoration project.

The Tower of Pisa has been leaning to one side pretty much from the beginning-the tower took nearly two centuries to build and it was obvious from the start that things were a little off kilter.

By the early 1990s, the tower was leaning nearly 18 feet, and each year, the tower was tilting more and more, with the incline increasing by more than a millimeter (0.04 inches) a year. That might not sound like much, but experts feared the building could collapse all together.It has taken engineers years to stabilize the tower, which included digging tunnels under one side of the structure to give its foundation room to shift, and attaching steel cables to the tower to keep it upright. It worked, and the tower has been straightening as predicted. In fact, engineers say that theoretically, they could straighten the tower completely. That, however, is unlikely to happen. More than 6 million people visit Pisa each year lured by the sight of the leaning tower, so while locals are happy to see the building restored, they’re not eager to see it straightened anytime soon.

When A Cruise Ship Crashes, How Much Does Cleanup Cost?

European Commission DG ECHO, Flickr

When a crash or accident happens, there are the immediate, often horrendous, effects, like death. But in the face of destruction, there are the long term effects that many of us never give a second thought to. Like the removal of wreckage.

Such is the case with Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that capsized off the coast of Italy in early 2012, killing 32 people. Since then, the boat has remained grounded, partially submerged in the waters near the Tuscan island of Giglio, and a constant visual reminder of the travel tragedy. Certainly not “out of sight, out of mind.”

But next month, the boat will rise from the seas, to remove the wreckage and start the restoration process of the surrounding waters.

At 114,500 tons, removing the Concordia is no small feat, and will require cables attached to hydraulic pumps that will help lift the wreckage from the seabed and onto an underwater platform. From there, repairs will be made to the submerged sized, and eventually giant steel boxes on the sides of the ship will be pumped full of air, in theory floating the top to the top of the water. A detailed example of how all of this works can be found on the restoration project’s website.

Overall the salvage work is coming in at $400 million, which some might say is a small price to pay for the horror and pain caused by the accident.

Castle Drogo, England, Opens To Public

Castle Drogo
The last castle to be built in England is opening to the pubic, BBC reports.

Castle Drogo is more of a stately home than a castle, since it was built long after artillery made castles obsolete. It was started in 1910 by Julius Drewe, founder of the Home and Colonial Stores, near Exeter in Devon. World War I and the Depression slowed down construction and it wasn’t completed until 1930. The architecture shows a variety of styles, with a faux medieval granite facade on the exterior. Inside there’s a library in the Norman style, a drawing room in the Georgian style, and many Victorian touches.

Now owned by the National Trust, the castle is undergoing an £11 million ($16.4 million) refurbishment to repair structural faults. The original design was flawed and allowed water to seep in, a problem that started even before the castle was finished. Now the building is seriously threatened by leakage and specialists are busy preserving the castle for future generations.

Visitors will be able to see the work in progress and also visit many of the historic rooms still in their original condition to get an insight into life in an English stately home. Tour guides point out odd little details such as marks on the floor that showed the butlers where to stand while waiting table in the dining room.

On the grounds there’s a formal garden and a path leading down to the still-wild Teign Valley, a good place for birdwatching. Several other trails in the area offer hikes through Dartmoor, a large area of protected moorland.

There’s also a cafe where you can get tea and scones. How very English!

The castle is open every day until November 3.

[Photo courtesy Philip Halling]

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‘Winged Victory Of Samothrace’ To Get $4 Million Makeover

Winged Victory of SamothraceThe “Winged Victory of Samothrace,” an iconic Greek statue housed in the Louvre in Paris, is going to undergo a major restoration, Agence France-Presse reports.

The museum will spend an estimated $4 million to clean the statue and repair structural problems. The statue will be out of sight to the public until the spring of 2014.

The statue was made sometime between 220 and 185 B.C. and is considered a masterpiece of ancient Greek art. It was discovered by a French archaeologist in 1863 on the island of Samothrace in the Aegean Sea. It had been housed in a small building at the highest point of the religious sanctuary on the island.

The statue stands atop the prow of a warship (not visible in this shot courtesy MJM Photographie) and was intended to commemorate some unknown naval battle. Sadly, no dedicatory inscription has ever been found, so exactly what victory the Victory was celebrating will remain a mystery.

Van Gogh Painting Losing Its Luster

Van GoghVincent Van Gogh is famous for the brilliant colors he used in his paintings, but one of them is beginning to fade.

“Flowers in a Blue Vase,” owned by the Kröller-Müller Museum in The Netherlands, is showing signs of deterioration. Specifically, the brilliant yellows are beginning to crack and turn gray.

The museum stated in a press release that it decided to take two tiny samples from the painting and have them analyzed. Imagine being charged with the task of popping off pieces of a Van Gogh painting! Anyway, the samples were sent off to a laboratory that found that a varnish added to protect the painting after the artist’s death included lead that reacted to cadmium in the yellow paint to gradually turn the paint gray.

Even more worrying, the varnish seems to have absorbed some of the underlying paint, thus making it hard to remove without causing damage to the picture. Now other museums owning Van Goghs will need to check to see if this type of varnish was used on their art treasures.

Koen Janssens, who led the research team, stated that, “paintings by Vincent Van Gogh are not static entities for decades and centuries to come. Over a period of 100 years, they can actually be considered a fairly reactive cocktail of chemicals that behaves in unexpected manners.”

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]