Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Italy's heritage crumbles

It seems that the Italian Government isn't taking anything resembling proper care of its ancient heritage, as the shocking story below details. The comments in this story were made by Italian officials, archaeologists and academics. We in the collectors' rights movement are just as appalled by this neglect as these Italians.

This story is very much relevant to our struggle to prevent collecting ancient coins in the United States from being strangled by import restrictions requested under the 1970 UNESCO Convention:


The 1970 UNESCO Convention requires that the governments of States parties to the Convention shall take adequate measures to preserve and care for their cultural heritage, as these excerpts from Article 5 require:

"Article 5
To ensure the protection of their cultural property against illicit import, export and transfer of
ownership, the States Parties to this Convention undertake, as appropriate for each country, to set up within their territories one or more national services, where such services do not already exist, for the protection of the cultural heritage, with a qualified staff sufficient in number for the effective carrying out of the following functions:
(c) promoting the development or the establishment of scientific and technical institutions (museums, libraries, archives, laboratories, workshops...) required to ensure the preservation and presentation of cultural property;
(d) organizing the supervision of archaeological excavations, ensuring the preservation "in situ" of certain cultural property, and protecting certain areas reserved for future archaeological research"

The US implementation of this Convention is governed by the CONVENTION ON CULTURAL PROPERTY IMPLEMENTATION ACT. The following is a relevant excerpt from the text of that act (Public Law 97-446 [H.R. 4566], 96 Stat. 2329, approved January 12, 1983; as amended by Public Law 100-204 [H.R. 1777], 101 Stat. 1331, approved December 22, 1987):

(1) [4] IN GENERAL. -If the President determines, after request is made to the United States under article 9 of the Convention by any State Party-
(B) that the State Party has taken measures consistent with the Convention to protect its cultural patrimony"

In plain English, these excerpts from the Convention and the CPIA require that, for a State party to the Convention to be able to request assistance from another State party to the Convention, the requesting State must take adequate measures to protect and preserve its cultural heritage.

Since Italy clearly is not taking adequate measures to preserve its cultural heritage in the form of excavated archaeological sites, monuments and artifacts (as its own officials including the President of Italy have stated), it seems self evident that Italy does not meet the requirements for assistance from another State party to the Convention, in the form of import restrictions on excavated artifacts.

The Republic of Italy submitted a request for extension of the MOU imposing import restrictions on artifacts of Italian origin in the spring of 2010. During the period for public comment, prior to the CPAC hearings in May, an overwhelming flood of comments opposing the prospective inclusion of ancient coins in that MOU was received. The State Department has been considering the renewal of this MOU since that time, and has not yet announced its decision.

It would seem appropriate that the United States should give serious consideration to taking action, in its response to the Italian request, to do something concrete to call the attention of the Italian Government to the fact that Italy is not complying with its curatorial and preservation responsibilities under the 1970 UNESCO Convention.


And now here is the news story itself, whose link was was prominently displayed on the front page of MSN yesterday:


Italy's ancient wonders crumble from neglect
Poor upkeep of Palatine Hill top experts' list of potential perils


Italy is rich in ancient wonders, but the real wonder may be that so many
are still standing given the poor care they get.

The collapse in Pompeii last week of a frescoed house where gladiators
prepared for combat was the latest archaeological accident waiting to
happen. The structure was a piece of storied past that had survived the
furious explosion of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. - but apparently could not
withstand modern-day neglect.

"We're stunned when some walls fall down. But these are ruins not
systematically maintained, so the miracle is that so few of them collapse,"
said Andrea Carandini, a world-renowned archaeologist who leads a panel of
professional consultants in the Cultural Ministry.

Last spring, a huge segment of the now underground complex of Nero's fabled
Golden Palace in Rome gave way, raining down pieces of vaulted ceiling in
one of the galleries beneath a garden popular with strollers. Three years
ago, a 6-meter (20-foot) section of ancient wall named after the 3rd century
Emperor Aurelius, who built it to defend Rome against the first onslaught of
barbarians, crumpled into a pile of bricks after days of heavy rain.

A couple of months ago, three chunks of mortar broke off the Colosseum,
hours before the symbol of the Eternal City opened its gates to tourists.

While the ancient Roman arena of gladiator battles and other spectacles has
survived earthquakes, lightning strikes and pillaging, architects and
engineers still fret about the architectural marvel, eroded by pollution,
rattled by subway cars running nearby, and still suffering from centuries of
poor drainage.

But topping experts' list of potential perils is the Palatine Hill. For
years, archaeologists and structural engineers have been issuing alarms that
the once palatial homes of Rome's ancient emperors risk collapse because of
poor upkeep.

Fissures are apparent in brickwork, and rainwater seeps through stone,
forcing the closure of much of the hill's expanse to tourists.

Pompeii's gladiator barracks along the doomed city's main street joined a
list of other recent victims of neglect in the sprawling remains that were
once buried under the volcanic ash of Vesuvius' wrath.

Among the more noted casualties was the collapse in January of the House of
the Chaste Lovers, which was excavated in 1987, a relatively recent addition
for the 3 million tourists who tread the Pompeii's stone paths each year.

"We are tired of commenting on the continuous collapses and damage to the
archaeological heritage of our country," said Giorgia Leoni, president of
the Italian Confederation of Archaeologists in a statement after the
gladiators' place fell apart on Saturday.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Tuesday decried what he called
"terrible negligence" as a chief reason for national embarrassments like the
Pompeii collapse.

Carandini, interviewed on Italian radio, warned that should Pompeii be hard
hit by an earthquake - "we wouldn't be able to do a (complete) restoration"
because no relief map has ever been made of the site. The Naples area, which
hosts the ruins, is one of Italy's most earthquake-prone.

Lovers of antiquities here have long bemoaned the chronic shortage of
funding - relative crumbs in the national budget pie - for routine
maintenance of treasures to shore up shaky structures and save them for

Italy's Cultural Ministry, whose duties include caring for and repairing
ancient monuments and artworks, gets a mere 0.18 percent of the national
budget, compared to roughly 1 percent for France, according to ministry
officials. It's a startling contrast for a nation that boasts the world's
highest number of ruins, churches, monasteries and other artistic and
architectural treasures - helping to make tourism one of Italy's biggest

Ironically, experts describe Italy as being "in the avant-garde for programs
of prevention, for pinpointing" potential peril with the help of architects
and engineers, and drawing up a "kind of map of risk."

Giorgio Croci, one of Italy's best-known engineers for structural problems,
said the nation's know-how is so in demand that Turkey has commissioned him
to study Istanbul's monuments for potential perils.

"But one of the woes of this country is a bureaucracy that's paralyzing," he
said. "In some cases, plans just languish in the drawers of officials or

Greece, with its legacy of ancient marvels, seems to do a better job at
keeping their treasures intact.

On the whole, Greek sites have benefited from generously-funded restoration
and conservation program over the past decades. Although Greece is
staggering through a severe economic crisis, work has continued on the
Acropolis, whose marble temples and monumental gates have been painstakingly
taken to pieces, sorted out and stuck together.

That work started after experts realized, in the 1970s, that quick action
was needed because of worsening pollution and damage from past restorations.


Croci said the Pompeii collapse might have been avoided if simple,
affordable measures had been taken preventatively - like injecting material
to encourage cohesion in the stone or simply covering the structure with
some kind of shelter.

"A lot of the interventions are not that costly," said Croci, who has mapped
out weak spots in the Colosseum and Palatine Hill ruins.

The structure was repaired in 1947 after damage from World War II bombing,
and the use of reinforced concrete in that restoration was cited by some as
a possible cause for the collapse.

Inspecting the wreckage on Tuesday, Pompeii's recently appointed
superintendent, Jeannette Papadopoulos, said reinforced concrete was
"slowly" being removed from some of the earlier restorations but that
"unfortunately" restorers hadn't gotten around to tackling the gladiators'

Croci, who hasn't inspected the collapsed house, disagreed, citing
infiltration of rainwater rather than concrete as the more likely culprit.

During a walkabout through the ruins two days after the collapse, a noted
Pompeii expert pointed to rivers of rain runoff - as a state TV camera
rolled - pouring through the sprawling site because weeds were clogging
gutters and sewers.

"All you need is a team of artisans, carpenters and such to call when you
see a simple problem" said Fabrizio Pesando, a professor at Naples
University of Oriental Studies.