Friday, April 10, 2009

Damage to medieval landmarks in L’Aquila severe

Italy appealed for international assistance to restore historic churches, palazzi and other monuments damaged by this week's earthquake in the Abruzzo region, warning it will take years and millions of euros to repair the treasures, if they can be saved at all. The Italian government has already committed 30 million euros already for early operations alone, such as securing the buildings.

Maurizio Galletti, the assessore alla cultura, or culture tsar for the Abruzzo region, has made a tour of the damage to the numerous churches, and period public buildings. "It's impossible to make a real assessment of the damage," Mr Galletti said, "because so far we have only been able to inspect the buildings from outside."

Some of the important buildings are clearly beyond repair, the most striking being the regional seat of government, built in the late 19th century, which has been reduced from two storeys to one. Its sign Palazzo del Governo teeters on Corinthian columns at the front and has become a symbol of the disaster for many, not least for what it says of the failure down the ages of Italian authorities to invest adequately in public buildings of all sorts, even those that are most important. "Look at the quality of the stone," Mr Galletti remarked scornfully, pointing to the granola-like rubble heaped on the damaged pediment. "There are so many factors that can cause one building to remain standing while another collapses: poor building materials, good or bad workmanship, and also the quality of any restoration undertaken over the centuries."

But there are some reasons for hope. Another 19th century building on the piazza should, according to Mr Galletti, be structurally sound even though slabs of cement have fallen from its sides. "That's because when they restored it recently they employed re-inforced concrete columns that discharge the shock of the earthquake into the ground," he explained.

Culture ministry officials are now compiling a list of damaged landmarks in the city of L'Aquila and region. These include the duomo, whose transept has collapsed; the baroque Church of the Anime Sante, whose cupola has all but disappeared, the Renaissance San Bernardino Church, whose bell tower crumbled on top of a neighboring convent. And the building housing the region's historical archives has also been severely damaged. This is just a sampling, Galletti says.

"Abruzzo has a high concentration of monuments, starting from Roman times. This was already an important trade route in antiquity. Then there was a florid medieval period. We have major Benedictine churches. And in Fossa, a medieval Gothic church covered with unique frescos. It, too, has been seriously damaged. The entire territory has suffered unbelievable artistic destruction."

Among other buildings damaged in the quake was Abruzzo's largest Romanesque church, the 13th-century Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio, whose apse collapsed.
The Basilica, with its famed pink-and-white jewel-box façade, was the site of the coronation of Pope Celestine V in 1294 and thousands of pilgrims still flock there each year.

The cupola of the 17th-century Anime Sante church designed by Giuseppe Valadier and the bell tower of L'Aquila's largest Renaissance church, San Bernardino da Siena, were also down. The Porta Napoli, the oldest and most beautiful gate to the city, built in 1548 in honour of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, was destroyed in the quake.

Churches and historic buildings in surrounding villages also suffered significant damage. The 14th century Tower of Medici, in the fortified village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, collapsed, as did the main altar of the baroque church of Sant'Angelo in the town of Celano, seat of the lords who ruled the area in the Middle Ages.
Some heritage sites in nearby towns were spared in the disaster, including the mountaintop fortress of Rocca Calascio, the highest fortress in Italy, which dates to the tenth century AD and has suffered damage in other quakes over the centuries.

Rome culture chief Umberto Croppi said a number of works by the 13th century painter Maestro di Fossa had been saved because they were on show in Rome when the church of Santa Maria ad Criptas in the town of Fossa was badly damaged in the quake.

Giorgio Croci, a Rome-based engineer and expert on ancient monuments, said the methods employed by medieval architects were a key factor in the region's damage. While ancient Roman and Renaissance builders used high-quality stone, in the medieval era builders often skimped on the quality of their materials, he said, meaning monuments from that period were less likely to stand in the event of a quake. "If you live in an ancient building, you have to employ a policy of prevention," Croci said.