Danes try to move 120-year-old lighthouse from eroding coast

When the 76-feet-tall lighthouse in Denmark was first lit in 1900, it was roughly 656 feet from the North Sea; now it is only about 20 feet away.
Image: People work on the lighthouse in Rubjerg Knude that is being moved away from the coastline on Oct. 22, 2019 between Lonstrup and Lokken, Jutland, Denmark.
People work on the lighthouse in Rubjerg Knude that is being moved away from the coastline on Oct. 22, 2019 between Lonstrup and Lokken, Jutland, Denmark.Henning Bagger / AFP - Getty Images

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By The Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A 120-year-old lighthouse has been put on wheels and rails to attempt to move it Tuesday some 263 feet away from the North Sea, which has been eroding the coastline of northwestern Denmark.

When the 76-feet-tall Rubjerg Knude lighthouse was first lit, in 1900, it was roughly 656 feet from the coast; now it is only about 20 feet away.

Local mayor Arne Boelt said "many things can go wrong" when moving the defunct lighthouse, weighing about 1,000 tons and sitting atop a cliff 200 feet above sea level.

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"But it's worth the risk ... the alternative would to dismantle the lighthouse."

The move is expected to last 10 hours, at a speed of 26 feet per hour.

The Rubjerg Knude lighthouse is seen during preparations for its translocation, in Rubjerg, Jutland, Denmark, on Oct. 21, 2019.Henning Bagger / AFP - Getty Images

Environment Minister Lea Wermelin has called the white, square lighthouse "a national treasure" to explain why ministry spent five million kroner ($747,000) to save it. Boelt and the town of Hjoerring also have chipped in to foot the bill.

The lighthouse ceased operating in 1968 and was briefly turned into a museum, including an exhibit about the structure's struggle against sand drift.

In the end, it was closed because of shifting sands which slowly buried the two buildings adjacent to the lighthouse. The lighthouse, however, still gets more than 250,000 visitors each year.

The move, broadcast live on major Danish news outlets, depended on the weather, which was currently fair in the region. Thirty minutes into the operation, the lighthouse had been moved 1.4 meters.

The area is known for constantly shifting sands and an eroding coastline.

In 2008, a nearby church was dismantled to prevent it from falling into the sea. The Romanesque Maarup Church, built on a cliff around 1250, was picked for scenes in "Babette's Feast," which in 1987 became the first Danish film to win the Oscar for best foreign language film.