A pending tunnel project may put David at risk.

Even Michelangelo's David is worried about his weak ankles

An underground railway project in Rome could bring Michelangelo's iconic David tumbling down because of weak marble around its ankles.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

It has survived five centuries of war and earthquakes but Michelangelo’s David, on display in Florence’s Accademia Gallery, is now at risk from a multimillion-dollar underground railway project.

For all its poise and beauty, the iconic statue, which depicts the biblical boy warrior who killed the giant Goliath with a stone from his sling, is made of low-quality Carrara marble and has developed tiny cracks in its base.

Engineers now fear it could collapse due to vibrations from a high-speed rail project, due to start this summer, that involves excavating a four-mile-long train tunnel and a six-level underground train station beneath the cobbled streets of Florence.

“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. If it’s not moved before digging begins, there is a serious risk that it will collapse,” says Fernando De Simone, an architect and an expert in underground engineering.

He called for the 17-foot statue, which Michelangelo completed in 1504, to be moved to a new, specially built museum.

The railway project, which is intended to improve Florence’s transport links with Rome and Milan, has sharply divided opinion.

Florence’s youthful mayor, Matteo Renzi, has voiced concerns over the project, but the regional government of Tuscany has vowed that it will go ahead.

The dispute reached all the way to parliament in Rome this month, with a senator asking for “immediate clarification” on the level of risk to the artwork. Cristina Acidini, a Florentine cultural official, said an assessment of the tunnel’s potential effect on David would be conducted by city engineers.

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