Vibration Tests and Structural Identification of the Bell Tower of Palermo Cathedral

Liborio Cavaleri1, *, Marco Filippo Ferrotto1, Fabio Di Trapani2, Alessandro Vicentini2
1 Department of Engineering, University of Palermo, Viale delle Scienze, 90128 Palermo, Italy
2 Department of Structural, Building and Geotechnical Engineering, Politecnico di Torino, Corso Duca degli Abruzzi, 24, 10129, Turin, Italy

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Creative Commons License
© 2019 Cavaleri et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Engineering, University of Palermo, Viale delle Scienze, 90128 Palermo, Italy;
Tel: +390817682438; Fax: +390815934792; E-mail:



The recent seismic events in Italy have underlined once more the need for seismic prevention for historic constructions of architectural interest and in general, the building heritage. During the above-mentioned earthquakes, different masonry monumental buildings have been lost due to the intrinsic vulnerability and ageing that reduced the structural member strength. This has made the community understand more that prevention is a necessary choice for the protection of monuments.


The paper aims at demonstrating a strategy of investigation providing the possibility of health judgment, identifying a computational model for the assessment of structural capacity under service and exceptional loading like/due to high-intensity earthquakes. Considering its cost, the proposed approach is applicable only for monumental buildings. In detail, activity regarding the Bell Tower of the Palermo Cathedral is described. This investigation is framed in a huge campaign aimed at assessing the health of monuments in Palermo and their capacity to resist expected seismic actions.


The process of the dynamic identification of the Bell Tower of Palermo Cathedral is discussed starting from the measurement of the response by high sensitivity seismometers and the analysis of the response signals. Then, the formulation of a Finite Element (FE) model of the tower is proposed after the identification of the main modal shapes. Once the Finite Element (FE) model was assessed, it was possible to evaluate the Bell Tower safety level in service and faced with exceptional loads.


The structural signals recorded along the height of the tower were analyzed to recognize the variation of the frequency content varying the external environmental loads. The signals were processed to obtain the experimental modal shapes. An FE model was defined whose mechanical parameters were successfully calibrated to give the experimental modal shapes.


The analysis of the response signals made it possible to identify the actual behavior of the structure and its compatibility with the service loads. Further, an effective structural model of the Bell Tower of Palermo Cathedral was possible for assessing its capacity level.

Keywords: Structural health monitoring, Historical-monumental buildings, Seismic vulnerability, Compatibility with service loads, Seismometers, Finite Element (FE) model.