Is Michelangelo's Statue of David Threatened by New High-Speed Train?

by Libby Zay 
Posted Mar 6th 2011 11:30 AMUpdated Mar 6th 2011 11:53 AM

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michelangelo statue of david florence

Rico Heil, Wikimedia Commons

Experts say Michelangelo's statue of David could collapse as a result of vibrations from the construction of a high-speed railway line beneath Florence, and are calling for the statue to be moved to a new location.

Since the world famous statue is riddled with tiny cracks – particularly in David's left ankle and in the carved tree stump that bears part of the statue's weight – it is possible that engineering work due to start this summer could cause serious damage, the UK's Telegraph newspaper reports.

"The tunnel will pass about 600 meters (2,000 feet) from the statue of David, the ankles of which, it is well known, are riddled with microfissures," Fernando de Simone, a specialist in subterranean engineering, tells the news outlet.

"If it's not moved before digging begins, there is a serious risk that it will collapse," he warns.

The cracks are thought to have developed because the marble used in the statue was not of a high standard and because the 17-foot high statue stood leaning at an angle for more than a century.

De Simone says the statue is already under "intense strain" because of vibrations caused by the 1.5 million tourists who swarm through Florence's Accademia Gallery each year to see the work, as well as traffic in the streets surrounding the building.

"The risk of collapse... will be very high if the resonance caused by excavation machinery for the high-speed train tunnel, as well as the vibrations of passing trains, are added to existing vibrations caused by visitors," says De Simone.

The engineering specialist has called for authorities to move the statue to a specially built museum, which he advises be designed to withstand tremors from earthquakes.

"The excavation work should not go ahead," says Vittorio Sgarbi, a prominent Italian art critic. "Out heritage should come before everything else."

According to Cristina Acidini, an official in charge of Florence's museums, engineers are assessing the Accademia Gallery to test the tunnel's potential effect as well as the statue's ability to withstand earthquakes.

Michelangelo's statue of David, the biblical hero who killed Goliath with a single stone, was commissioned by Florence's rulers to symbolize the city state's ability to fight off bigger neighboring powers. The statue took three years to complete, and was unveiled in Florence's Piazza della Signoria in 1504.

In 1873, the statue was moved to its present location at the Accademia Gallery to protect it from grime and rain.

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