A 52-year-old tourist from Spain was killed Thursday by falling masonry in one of Florence's most famous churches, the Basilica of Santa Croce. The church, a top tourist attraction, is where Italian luminaries Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, and Niccolo Machiavelli are buried. The fatal accident raises questions about the state of Italy's considerable cultural heritage, which includes numerous aging and fragile monuments, the AP reports. Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, speaking from New York, said prosecutors would conduct an investigation to determine the cause and if faulty maintenance was to blame.
The victim was struck by a decorative stone fragment that fell from a height of 66 feet as he visited the church with his wife. According to Italian media reports, the fragment was about six inches by six inches and supported a beam. The 15th-century basilica, which has a famed neo-Gothic facade, has been undergoing a multi-year maintenance program in collaboration with Italy's civil protection agency, the head of the organization that manages the church tells the Italian news agency ANSA. "We are really astonished at what has happened, and we ask ourselves how it could happen," she says. Authorities are checking the stability of the church, which is expected to remain closed to visitors indefinitely.