Last year’s report for Heritage at Risk on the situation in Italy reminded us of the outstandingly rich and precious cultural heritage of this country. Of course, the sheer amount of
monuments makes it difficult to preserve, restore and maintain all of them adequately.
Three case studies showing examples of positive as well as negative developments have been selected this year as an addition to the report of the year 2000.
Case Study 1: Reconstruction of Towns and Villages in Umbria, Destroyed or Damaged by the Earthquake of 1997
In the Heritage at Risk Report 2000, information was given of the intensive and exceptional efforts to rebuild and repair S. Francesco in Assisi, but fears were also uttered that
the repair of this important tourist city would go faster than in the other, less known places of Umbria. In this region, between Assisi and Spoleto, Nocera Umbra and Todi there are
innumerable small and bigger towns and villages, most of which are of high artistic and architectural quality and contain a great density of cultural heritage. The earthquake shocks of
1997 caused tremendous damage, on average 30% of all buildings were so badly affected that they were no longer inhabitable. The historic centre of Nocera Umbra had to be evacuated
completely (see Heritage at Risk 2000) and other historic places, such as the small town of Massa Martama, situated in the hills east of Todi and still surrounded by an intact
mediaeval town wall, faced the same situation. Massa Martama had to be evacuated after the first earthquake of May 1997, and all buildings needed to be supported by emergency
scaffolds: it was dangerous to enter the town itself. The second earthquake occurred in October of the same year, causing the well-known damage to the historic structure in Assisi and
to other historic places across the entire region.
It is a great joy to be able to report that the fears mentioned in last year’s Heritage at Risk publication have not eventuated. Due to enormous private initiative, but also with the
help of considerable public funding, the repair work has in some cases already been finished - in others it is well on its way. This does not only apply to Assisi, but to all small and
bigger places concerned, even to individual farmsteads.
In Montefalco, for instance, the restoration of the Palazzo Communale (13th-15th century) and of the church of San Francesco, now used as a museum and particularly known
for its fresco cycle by Benozzo Gozzoli, is still in progress. In nearby Beragna the restoration work at the Palazzo dei Consoli (circa 1270) and at the church of San Silvestro (dated 1195)
has been completed; on the other side of the square, San Michele (12th century) is still clad in scaffolding and restoration is underway. It is, therefore, all the more regrettable that the
2nd-century Roman temple in Beragna apparently has been in the process of decay for a long time, independent of the earthquake damage. In Spello, immediately south of Assisi, most
of the damaged buildings have either been restored or are presently being restored; this includes the Palazzo Communale (built in 1270) and the church of San Lorenzo (1120). At one
palace with a baroque facade near San Lorenzo, a rusting scaffold was noticeable, however, the building is obviously uninhabited. In places such as the lively Foligno or Trevi and
Nocera Umbra, as well as in the already mentioned Massa Martama (which has turned into a huge building site), the situation seems to be equally positive. Under the leadership of the
town authorities, all houses are being repaired and adequately modernised. The most important aim of public funding is to make the houses as earthquake-proof as possible, an
understandable aim in view of the unstable geological situation in this region. However, this is not possible without reinforced concrete - ceilings as stabilising slices or as tension rings
in the wall crests - or without installing tie rods of steel. Historical constructions - for instance vaults and well-preserved wooden ceilings - can remain in situ, and the basic
structure of the buildings, including features such as winding stairways, is being respected. Even the old roof tiles have been recovered and used again.
Case Study 2: Paestum
The remains of ancient Paestum can be found in the wide plain between the Amalfi peninsula and the Cilento. Thirty years ago it was still almost uninhabited, but is now almost
completely urbanised in a seemingly chaotic way, particularly along the streets and the Mediterranean. Only a small area around the former urban settlement of Paestum remains
relatively free from any development. From the archaeological park one can still have the illusion that the three magnificent classical Greek temples stand in noble seclusion. The
unavoidable souvenir shops and restaurants at the entrance to the grounds, as well as the museum and the car park, are sufficiently hidden, even in summer by lavish greenery.
Therefore, the first impression of this magnificent cultural ensemble is quite pleasant. The three temples are in excellent condition; they have obviously been cleaned and restored
recently and in a very careful manner. The central, most monumental so-called Temple of Poseidon (tempio di Nettuno), built around 450 BC and originally consecrated to Hera, is still in
scaffolding inside - the building site (including the scaffolds) making a positive impression.
From the conservation point of view it is important and essential that the three temples are protected by fences that are optically unobtrusive but highly effective, even if today
it is not possible for us to appreciate them in Goethe’s sense, that is by walking ‘around and through them’. Another aspect proving the exemplary care given to the temples is the solid,
properly roofed wooden frame, where individual hewn pieces are stored.
As we know, during Antiquity, these three Doric temples were not in the open countryside, as the neo-classical and romantic ages (and perhaps we today) liked to imagine
them. Instead they were integrated into a busy trade place named Poseidonia, founded in the 7th century BC by the Greeks, conquered by the Lucanians around 400 BC and governed
under the name of Peistum. Afterwards it became and remained a Roman colony known as Paestum, until its gradual decline in late Antiquity. The walls that completely surrounded the
town and part of the settlement have been excavated. In comparison to the whole area, this is only a small strip between the temple of Ceres and the southern town gate, the Porta della
Giustizia, along the Via Sacra connecting the three temples, the Greek agora and the Roman forum. This excavated and exposed part of the town - with architectural remains from Greek,
Lucanian and above all Roman times - is regrettably much neglected and cannot be compared with the state of the three classical temples. The whole excavated area is heavily overgrown
by weeds and bushes, particularly in the area between the Forum and the Tempio di Cerere and in the villa district west of Via Sacra. Here the plasters and the crests of the house walls,
which are up to 1.5 metres high, are no longer sufficiently protected; furthermore, the elaborate mosaic floors are overgrown with bits broken off, tempting visitors to take coloured
stones home as souvenirs. The situation is slightly better in the area of the Agora forum; however, the typically high substructure of the Roman Capitoline temple is used as a viewing
terrace and climbing frame, with the individual architectural elements such as capitals and mouldings gradually sinking into the ground.
It is imperative that the site be adequately preserved and protected, due to the importance of the excavated area for the understanding that the thee temples were integrated into
a town, as well as to the high quality of the architectural remains.
Case Study 3: Herculaneum
In the 2000 Report the lamentable situation in Pompeii was described in detail. Herculaneum, too, was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, but in contrast to Pompeii, not by hot
ashes and lapilli but by muddy ashes and afterwards by lava. The excavation area in Herculaneum is smaller than that in Pompeii. The buildings, however, are comparatively better
preserved and include a whole range of wooden elements. In the same way as Pompeii, Herculaneum has been only partly excavated; above the many metres of lava layers there is
It is regrettable to conclude that the conservation and care of this outstanding cultural site is in an equally bad state as that of Pompeii. The decay of the exposed buildings
continues at great speed and the efforts to retard this development are far too small. The causes of this decay include unhindered plant growth on the protective roofs, as well as on the
wall crests and original floors; and also inadequate or non-functioning water drainage from the roofs, resulting in the destruction of the roofs until they collapse. Without these roofs
the antique masonry, the plasters with paintings, the floors and the wooden elements are also exposed to destruction. Moreover, similar to Pompeii, the restored areas open to the public
are not sufficiently protected, especially the antique composition floors and mosaic floors.
The extent of the neglect and the consequent decay becomes apparent if one compares the present state with a small, but very instructive brochure from 1997 - the Itinerario
Archeologico Ragionato by Mario Pagano, Director of the excavations.
Immediately, at the beginning of a visit, one is shocked by the state of the substructure in the ‘area sacra’ and of the terrace with the altar of M. Nonio Balbo, considering that in
1981 well-preserved remains of more than 250 people were discovered here at what is the former coastline of the Mediterranean. These people died of hot gases when they sought shelter
from the eruptions of Vesuvius in the vaults open to the sea.
In the 5th Cardo, at the beginning of the path around this section, the Casa dei Cervi (House of Stags) is presently being restored; on the opposite, south-east side of the street
is the large complex of the ‘palestra’ and the ‘sala absidiata’, with shops and workshops in front. Here, the decay caused by growth and damp walls is particularly severe. Pictures in
the Itinerario of 1997 show buildings that are intact and rooms that are accessible; today the 5th Cardo is blocked off, the two-storey front of the buildings is threatened by
collapse, at the rear most of the modern roofs have already collapsed or are badly damaged, the plant growth continuing unhindered. Apart from street barriers for the protection of
visitors, no emergency measures can be seen.
Unfortunately, this situation is noticeable to an even greater extent at the ‘decumano massimo’ in the area of the former forum. Here, too, the photos in the Itinerario
show antique buildings that are still intact and particularly impressive for the many (sometimes even wooden) details in the shops and entrances to the houses. Today both rows of
buildings are blocked off by steel scaffolds, with only a narrow lane for tourists kept open in the middle of the wide ‘decumano’. The buildings on the north-eastern side are not
accessible, those on the south-western side only partly.
The important ‘Collegio degli Augustali’, which was restored a few years ago, needs to be mentioned, as it raises a number of questions. It is noticeable that the wooden parts,
preserved here in an astonishingly high number and only superficially charred, have been surrounded by four layers of glass or fiber glass, a questionable method in view of the
evolving micro-climate. Furthermore, it is obvious that no attempts have been made to stabilise the surfaces of these wooden parts, whether under glass or exposed. The consequence is
that ceiling joists, door lintels, supporting beams and bed frames are crumbling and will therefore be lost forever. For instance, this can clearly be seen at the ceiling beams under
fiber glass in the ‘Collegio degli Augustali’.
A positive regulation in the ‘Collegio’ is that the central, richly painted room is not open to visitors, which is, however, an exception in Herculaneum. The standard is that
tourists are allowed to walk on the antique floors - either composition or mosaic floors. Consequently, these floors suffer, especially since parts that are beginning to break off are not
immediately repaired. An efficient and complete protection of the floors would not be easy to implement; some of the lavishly designed mosaics would not be entirely visible anymore,
also the appearance and visual character of the rooms would be affected. But in many cases - at least where rooms are not passageways to others - a simple barrier at the entrance would
be very effective, without impairing the visibility and appearance of the rooms. Of the ‘first room on the real side’ of the ‘Casa del Atrio Corinzio’ (House of the Corinthian Atrium) Mario
Pagano writes in his Itinerario: ‘beautiful mosaic floor with geometrical pattern’. With a barrier similar to that in the ‘Collegio degli Augustali’ this room could be viewed from the
atrium and would have long-lasting protection.
Among the particularly lamentable buildings is the ‘Casa Sannitica’ in the 4th Cardo, characterised by Mario Pagano as ‘one of the best preserved and oldest (2nd century BC)
houses in Herculaneum’. Today we see the most primitive supports for the modern ceiling above the ground floor and for the architrave of the loggia on the east side of the building.
The walls show clear signs of water damage caused by leaking roofs and considerable damage to the plasters and paintings.
Regrettably, this negative picture could be extended. We would just like to mention the ‘Casa del Atrio a Mosaico’, described in the Itinerario as ‘one of the most
luxurious houses of Herculaneum’. The richly ornamented mosaic and marble floors are particularly remarkable, as is the wooden frame construction of the glassed-in veranda. Even in
1997 Mario Pagano wrote that it was only partly accessible because of danger of collapse. In the meantime, it has been closed entirely for visitors. The wooden frames are supported,
otherwise no stabilising measures are noticeable. The modern steel ceiling above the big salons, which used to be open to the sea, has fallen down; the rich marble floor mentioned in the
Itinerario is covered by rubble, and one can only guess as to the current state of the marvellous wall paintings. In view of this situation, the elaborately painted and durable
sign warning people of the unsafe building seems a mockery.
In this case study, Mario Pagano’s Itinerario was quoted several times - not only to compare the situation of 1997 and today, but also because he describes the partly
excavated ‘Villa dei Papiri’ originally outside the urban settlement of Herculaneum, which is underground and only open to access by professionals. He complains that the goal to
excavate the entire villa and open it to the public is still far away (one would have to demolish all the buildings above, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, a whole town quarter).
Nevertheless his opinion is that ‘the complete excavation is one of the most urgent tasks of Vesuvian archaeology’. From a scientific point of view this may be right, but in view of the
state and rapidly continuing decay of the already excavated parts of this World Heritage site such an initiative would be irresponsible.