JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 14 (pp. to )
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 14 (pp. to )




In the wake of the long series of earthquakes that recently caused major damage in parts of central Italy, including the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, an international ICOMOS workshop was organized in Assisi in February 1998 with the participation of ICCROM and other international and national organizations. The purpose of the workshop was to review the situation in the region and to discuss the implementation of preventive measures and policies of reconstruction. It was agreed that the availability of a response plan is fundamental but often missing. Even in central Italy, where the fire brigades were well-prepared for the event and took a major responsibility for emergency response, various municipalities and property owners had not taken sufficient preventive measures. In many cases, although the owner believed his or her property to be safe as a result of recent consolidation work, such interventions had obviously not been properly inspected. As a result, there was damage to these buildings and sometimes even complete collapse.

In the ICOMOS workshop's Declaration of Assisi of 1998, the experts emphasized:

Mitigation measures should be a compromise based on a balanced judgment: on the one hand, avoiding alterations in the original conception, technique and technology, and, on the other hand, providing the required safety level. The measures should be applied only after having clearly identified the risk levels and the most vulnerable zones. It is necessary always to pay particular attention to the protection of people involved in the operations. Priority should be given to compatible and reversible measures (Stovel 1998, 143).

An urgent task was to ensure that damage to some of the major monuments would not become worse. Therefore, work was started immediately on the Basilica of Saint Francis, where parts of the vaults had collapsed. The collapse was not due to previous restorations, as first believed, but to the accumulation of stresses in particular areas of the structure, such as the meeting point of the central nave and the west front. By classifying the damage in a systematic manner and developing methods of intervention, the state authorities carried out an important job.

Perhaps the most important issue that emerged from the Assisi workshop was the view of the region affected by this earthquake as a rich cultural landscape. While it holds many invaluable works of art and historic monuments, the most significant issue is the complexity of such rich fabric as it has developed through centuries and millennia and as it has affected and formed the landscape. While attention and care are generally first given to major works of art, small historic communities and villages with their modest constructions also require serious consideration in order not to lose their historic and cultural value. The problems thus are manifold, ranging from artistic and architectural restoration to economic and social rehabilitation of rural settlements. This fact has been recognized in Italy, whose “green heart” represents one of the world's richest concentrations in terms of cultural heritage. The question is not just one of preserving a memory; it is also an issue of continuing traditions, the revival and survival of ways of living—if at all possible.

The Declaration of Assisi paid serious attention to the need to integrate preventive measures and emergency preparedness in the context of physical planning processes: “In case of provisional relocation of inhabitants during emergency and repair periods, the occupied areas should be submitted to a physical planning with due respect to the significance of heritage landscape and environment” (Stovel 1998, 143).

This question was seen as particularly acute where there had been the need to quickly establish areas for provisional housing for the inhabitants of small settlements in the hilly landscape. In many cases, such temporary housing was organized nearby by covering a part of natural ground with concrete, forming a reasonably flat surface on which to place tents or containers (such as those used to transport goods), one for each family. The area was provided with suitable infrastructure, water, drainage, and electricity. From the landscape point of view, this type of housing created a wound that should be repaired in the future, when the emergency is over. The problem is that such works tend to remain permanent, and, especially when poorly designed, the damage is difficult to repair.

Other questions can be raised in areas such as Croatia and Bosnia, where damage was caused by armed conflict. From the technical point of view, the effects look similar, and reconstruction and restoration of thousands of small buildings and works of art in rural areas, an essential part of the physical heritage of cultural landscapes, are not a small issue. Sometimes such structures are reduced to ruin, perhaps only 30–50% remaining of the old building stock. In these cases a series of questions arises. What principles should be followed? What are the limits of restoration? Is it possible to integrate traditional techniques in the process of reconstruction? What design criteria should be adopted in the case of completely new construction? What should be our approach to the issues of authenticity and integrity in such damaged areas? These are issues that ICCROM has integrated into its program objectives to find strategies suitable for the specific conditions in each case. The authorities need to pay particular attention to how economic contributions are provided and what guidelines are developed for the settlements and the cultural landscapes concerned. The issue is not only culture and education, but also economy and survival.