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Art heritage at risk: severo rapporto sull'Italia pubblicato da ICOMOS

ICOMOS, il Comitato Internazionale per i Siti ed i Monumenti, che assiste UNESCO nella valutazione delle nomine dei siti alla lista del patrimonio mondiale, ha pubblicato il rapporto annuale sul Patrimonio Culturale in Pericolo (Heritage at Risk).

Il rapporto completo e' disponibile all'indirizzo


Qui inseriamo l'inquadramento generale, redatto da Gaetano Palumbo (ICOMOS UK), Andrea Baldioli e Marco Acri

Cultural Heritage at Risk
Italy, commonly known as the bel paese because of its long-standing cultural heritage, can be proud of an outstanding tradition in the field of conservation and management of cultural heritage. Italy and its conservation professionals took a decisive part in the refinement of modern western trends for conservation, by designing specific legislation in the first decades of the 20th century which could be defined as pioneering in the field. Italy also took a lead in academic research, continuously improved and translated into practice, and by actively participating in international discussion on the topic, such as for the Charter of Athens in 1931 and the Venice Charter in 1964.
We may argue that the growing interest in conservation depended on the extensive cultural heritage in Italy, uniquely varied as well as historically very multi-layered, but also in the shared sense of belonging to common roots, to be protected and transmitted to future generations.
However, despite its leading role on the international academic scene, Italy is facing serious problems in protecting and managing its cultural heritage, whose natural deterioration is being irreversibly accelerated by managerial blindness. Despite innovative legislative achievements in 1939, Italian architectural, archaeological and environmental heritage has been facing a process of decline and deterioration which does not result from scarce economic and practical resources, but also from the Italian Governments' and people's incapacity to give value to their cultural potential.
Illegal development and speculation
The end of the World Wars represented an inevitable opportunity for uncontrolled development. The force of such development on the one hand allowed an immediate shared and high level of well-being, but on the other increased a tendency to lack respect for the law. In the field of preservation and care of cultural and natural heritage, this process has meant a very low standard in urban planning and a pressing demand-supply for industries and infrastructure; illegal constructions dominating the urban and rural landscape of the peninsula.
However, once the economic 'boom' ended, Italy has had to face the environmental disaster resulting from this indiscriminate development without having the necessary tools for the long-term restoration and regeneration of wasted land. Although opposed by certain sectors of the Italian population, the first condono (the Italian term addressing the remission for building illegality) was adopted in 1985. This condono was proposed as a provisional measure in planning, it pardoned illegalities in various protected areas, through concessions by local authorities and territorial bodies of the Ministry of Culture (Soprintendenze). The community's adoption of this legislative measure was in light of its announced ambition to delegate direct responsibilities to the local level. Most 'necessary' illegal residences became officially legal resulting in the landscape being irreversibly devastated.
However, such illegal treatment continued, as whatever was included in the 1939 laws - archaeological sites, coasts, national parks - was subjected to deregulated exploitation. This was even in the absence of primary needs, with the highest percentage taking place in the southern regions. After the wholehearted initiative of some local authorities and community representatives, who had the courage to reverse the acquiescence of this situation by ordering the demolition of illegal buildings, the situation returned to 'normal', culminating in a second condono in 1994, while in 2003 a third was announced and approved. This is probably the worst of all because for the first time it allows for illegal buildings built on public land to be 'pardoned' and made legal.
In addition, new amendments to article 181 of the cultural heritage law were approved recently by the government (designed by the Minister and endorsed by the Senate on 1 May 2004). These amendments permit, at article 36 and especially 37, the pardon of illegal construction in protected environmental areas, if completed before 30 September 2004. This also gave transgressors the opportunity to complete and in some cases add to their treachery.
Why have another concession, the third one in less than twenty years? Referring to an appeal launched by various environmental associations the risks of an additional general pardon do not simply include the cultural dimension of development, but also the social and economic ones, destabilising the sustainability of a process regulated with institutional consent.
Considering the social dimension and the Government's duty of care role, the continuous and repeated pardons of illegal development results in an increase in speculation and illegal construction, which is often part of a process of organised crime aimed at recycling dirty money. The highest percentage of illegal construction and speculation is registered in the south of Italy, where organised crime has its historical roots. The acceptance of illegality creates moreover inequalities among citizens, clearest to those who act legally. Last but not least, the act of condoning the illegality fundamentally threatens the authority and social balance of the law, given the presupposition of the Italian law that illegal acts against the cultural heritage should be pursued in court.
Also, the local situation may be critical because of an overload from an excessive amount of condono applications. This trend runs the risk of speeding up assessments and lowering requirements and permit criteria. In such a case, an excessive number of permits could be accompanied with a drop in controls.
Moving to the economic dimension, we should stress that the immediate proportional taxation revenue from a remission is considerably lower than the total investment necessary for the supply of infrastructure, such as pipelines, streets, electricity, and so on, necessary for legal and regular planning and to be undertaken by the local government, that is by the local community.
When discussing the impact that illegal construction and speculation has on cultural heritage, whether tangible or intangible heritage, the Italian paradox is even more frustrating, because it emphasises a perverse carelessness towards what is often considered the country's highest potential, both in economic and social terms. As an immediate visual reaction, it is easy to emphasise how uncontrolled planning negatively shapes and deprives cultural landscapes of their integrity as historically formed entities that have grown slowly and in keeping with natural inputs. They are non-reproducible, unique and their damage or loss is irreversible.
Such uncontrolled occupation of land which does not respect regulated interim plans or guidelines, nor takes safety measures into account, often drastically increases the risk of natural disasters, which could have consequences not only on human lives but also on existing cultural heritage. Furthermore, the costs of legalising illegal development, for example by providing them with regular sewage, electricity, and so on, creates a shortage of financial resources in local communities, with a direct impact on the already scarce resources which would normally be used to maintain cultural heritage. In addition, the acceptance of low-quality buildings, the hallmark of illegal development, will reduce investment in future high-quality buildings, as the architectural market becomes saturated. Unfortunately this also points to an impoverishment of research in architectural design or, even worse, a massive escape to foreign countries of honest and enthusiastic young architects. The paradox is that in a few years these buildings may also be covered by existing heritage protection laws, as they currently apply to buildings 50 years after their construction, after which it has to meet special permit procedures before being demolished or modified. It is easy to imagine the immense additional workload which the already stretched Soprintendenze will be submitted to.
Not to be excessively critical, we are also pleased to highlight government efforts to safeguard the quality of architecture, urban planning and environment by the release of the legge quadro sulla qualit architettonica (February 27th 2004), which aims at increasing project design standards for the built environment and infrastructure, to improve life quality and to preserve and prevent landscapes and skylines from 'aesthetic pollution'. It is particularly significant for architectural design competitions, because it encourages the involvement of young professionals who were often excluded in the past decade. We are reminded of the perverse and united unofficial Italian tradition by which new professionals, mostly in architecture, were considered amenable to work for free or for ridiculous salaries, and often without being acknowledged in the projects in which they participated, in a sort of ill-defined apprenticeship. It is also remarkable in its specific procedures for the recognition of contemporary architectural masterpieces through the 'declaration of important artistic nature' under agreed criteria and standards. This interesting approach consists in having financial contributions allocated to the buildings included in the list for their consolidation, restoration and maintenance.
Unfortunately, these efforts seem to be isolated, in the absence of a long-term comprehensive approach towards the creation of the necessary conditions for success. The impression is that one law alone cannot be effective while other laws permit the opposite.
The uproar caused by the Italian Government's recent moves to sell public properties to private individuals or corporations has found its way to the international press. It must be said that many countries have always bought and sold land and buildings, and recently France has moved to a very similar scheme of selling off a number of unprofitable buildings, including many that are definitely of cultural significance. The difference is the way the Italian government has announced it, consisting of a very complex scheme of the property's economic valuation, of the verification of values other than economic ones, and of its sale by either competitive bidding or direct agreements that in most cases violates the established rules of heritage protection.
Here we are not discussing the privatisation of services to a cultural attraction such as ticketing, restaurants, general maintenance and upkeep, museum shops, security, or recording and conservation. Privatisation here refers to the sale of a building or site of cultural heritage value, for which a change in use is allowed, or of a heritage place to a private company so that it can transform it into a tourist attraction.
The proponents of the sale of heritage sites maintain that the State is not able to adequately protect this vast heritage, and that the involvement of private money is necessary. They maintain that it is better to sell less important heritage so that the more important can be adequately protected.
The argument that a change of ownership does not necessarily modify a town's physical design, does not hold if the change in ownership also includes radical changes of use and the commercialisation of public spaces (Hassler, Algreen-Ussing, Kohler 2002). The privatisation of cultural heritage may have some short term economic advantages for the State and private concerns but in the long term it may weaken or even destroy the trust that citizens have in the State as the steward of public good (Throsby 2002). It may be more expensive in the long term for the State, if legislation forces the State to continue tax incentives in favour of the owner or to direct protective interventions if the site becomes endangered.
Cultural heritage economists have also pointed out that it is not correct to give only market value to cultural heritage, as there are other non-measurable or parameters that are more difficult to measure that have an influence on the way heritage is perceived and valued locally and globally (Throsby 2002, Klamer and Zuidhof 1999). The cultural and environmental potential of heritage to contribute to local communities' wellbeing is in fact broad and differentiated. While the economic value of goods is traditionally recognised as decisive when measuring its impact on transformations, we cannot neglect the existence of additional values whose evaluation methods are not established yet in economic terms. We should include use value, characterising a good for the range of possible uses it offers, social value, seen as its contribution to the community, to the creation of a common sense of belonging together, educational value, being the eternal educational role, direct and indirect, played by a cultural good, representative value, being how a good can be a symbol of a society and its past. Stressing that there are several indirect benefits of built heritage to society, its sale would have merely a single short-term effect.
The present trend to privatise cultural heritage sites risks the loss of its significance, as a balance and expression of different values, and the loss of its authenticity. In the longer term, this translates into decreasing community interest, as the resource no longer 'belongs' to them, and decreasing visitor satisfaction. This has dire consequences for a site that a private owner no longer sees as profitable, so encouraging a process of rapid sale of non-profitable properties, or of their contents, such as furniture or art objects, with the purpose of finding cash for repairs (English Heritage 2002). This has serious consequences for State authorities' capacity to direct that heritage legislation be respected (in the UK, for example, many manors and villas were destroyed by owners that were not able to maintain them, until specific legislation had to be introduced (Settis 2002)).
The danger is falling into a site-by-site approach, assessing each and every site in its existing context. There are hundreds of hill towns in Italy where perhaps there is not a single 'monument' of national heritage value, but where the context, the urban texture, the quality of life and the relationship with the landscape and the cultural traditions of that area create heritage and give value to the entire village. The balance between public and private, between community and individual was in many cases arrived at as a consequence of long-term historic processes, which the rapid and irreversible sale will disrupt. From this point of view there is no major and minor heritage, but a continuum that in Italy is particularly strong in its deep layerings. The risk of separating major and minor heritage is also in isolating 'major' heritage, transforming it into a mock-up of itself, and favouring the site's aesthetic value over any other value it may have.
Going back to the Italian situation, the government's attempt to find financial support for its large program of new infrastructure development and tax reduction is based on this following scheme, the creation of a new company, Patrimonio SpA, which we can translate as Heritage Inc., to which state properties could be transferred by a decree signed by the Minister of Finance, and endorsed by the Ministers of Culture and of Environment, in the case of properties with a recognised cultural heritage value. The properties on this list could be sold or given by concession to private companies. By a simple signature, the Minister of Finance could also transfer any of these properties to another company, Infrastrutture SpA (Infrastructures Inc). The market value of this company's properties was intended for use to issue bonds and to receive bank loans. The bank would then become the new owner of the property, until the loan repayment.
This approach is accepting significant clauses which make its application dangerous. First, many culturally significant buildings were included in the 'shopping list', surprising given the availability of many State-owned buildings and areas of land of no cultural or environmental value. This reflects an incapacity to distinguish between cultural and non-cultural properties, as well as a lack of understanding of values other than purely economic ones. In addition, the laws accompanying the creation of these companies, as well as those authorising the direct sale of State properties to private companies, explicitly deny the Ministry of Cultural Heritage the right of first refusal. This Ministry is however responsible for confirming the cultural importance of heritage. In fact, the present evaluation of the market value of the State properties made by the Demanio dello Stato, the authority that administers State-owned buildings and land, is accompanied by a time-limit of 120 days for the Soprintendenze to declare whether a site is worth State protection or can be sold, and if there is no answer within that period, the assumption is that the site can be sold. Only 120 days to evaluate what it took centuries to build! Even admitting that each Soprint-endenza in Italy, roughly one for each of 20 regions, has a work force able to carry out such a study for every site or building for which historic and architectural records have to be found or produced, the sheer number of pending actions shows that this is an impossible task. In Lombardy, each of the 12 architects working at the Soprintendenza has 1946 pending assessments! (Emiliani 2004). Although in theory 120 days would allow such an assessment to be carried out, in practical terms it is totally insufficient, given the overwork of every Soprintendenza in Italy. The invitation of the Minister of Culture to the Soprintendenti to take a site off the list of what can be sold if in doubt, does not relieve critics' misgivings about this law's consequences in the long term, given the parallel and explicit invitation to the Soprintendenti by higher State hierarchies to use this power with discretion.
So far we have discussed the theoretical possibilities that this new legislation introduces. But recent sales of buildings through private negotiations or competitive bids have included properties protected for their cultural heritage value within a scheme for the rapid sale of buildings belonging to State-owned insurance and social security companies.
To this legislative proposal, we should add the Italian Government's most recent initiative, which in article 30 of the Finanziaria 2005, foresees the possibility to grant the use of protected cultural resources by private parties, after the payment of a rent. These should then be responsible for the implementation of restoration and maintenance works, whose costs will be deducted from the rent, which is to be determined by the local Soprintendenza. It is stressed that private grantees will have to make the item available to the public in accordance with the rules agreed in the contract.
Although this legislative measure holds the positive potential to contribute to the conservation of the cultural heritage, it falls as an additional drop into an already full vase. As stated above, the operating conditions of local designated heritage management authorities were already stretched years ago, they cannot be efficient when overwhelmed by tons of records to check and complete. In Italy's dramatic cultural heritage management situation and in the absence of real strategic policies for conservation at a national level, this theoretically positive step sounds destructive and irreversible. Who will take responsibility for approving a conservation project? Who will monitor its application? The Soprintendenze, today, are not enabled to operate properly given their chronic lack of financial resources, although they can often count on highly professional, although demoralised personnel.
A characteristic example recalled by S Settis applies to the introduction in December 2002 of an urgent sale of cultural heritage, based on private negotiation, of monuments in several Italian heritage cities, in particular the sale of Manifattura Tabacchi, a huge industrial complex completed during the Fascist era in Florence, which had an order placed on it by the Ministry on the basis of its historic importance in Italian industrial development. The local authorities had already planned an important integrated project for the site aimed at establishing a cultural centre, hosting the national archive, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure Institute, and other cultural institutes of the city, a project which could not be realised as a result.
Another example of unbalanced privatisation is the Aeolian Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, which are considered natural heritage at risk. With a recent administrative measure, the Regional Assembly of Sicily (legge regionale n.6 2001) approved the normative law that authorises pumice quarrying despite UNESCO's request and the guidelines of the 'Piano paesistico' (a mandatory zoning plan) to stop the exploitation.
Sicily's finance law has provided for other regional measures during 2003, including authorising the trading of public land to the advantage of private bodies. The leading businesses in pumice extraction now have the right to purchase portions of volcanoes that together represent invaluable geomorphological heritage. Proposals to stop this happening are being put forward by the Legambiente di Filicudi, Stromboli e Ginostra.
The situation should be seen also in light of the national cultural and natural heritage management policy, that has indirectly introduced a differentiation between responsibilities for heritage, those for heritage conservation being the State, while its development has been assigned to the Regions, proposing a confused coordination and co-operation between State (with Soprintendenze which are acting regionally) and regions.
As far as positive initiatives are concerned, in March 2004, the Italian Ministry of Culture with the Agenzia del Demanio, passed a decree to improve inspection procedures for the buildings and properties to be transferred to the lists of buildings for sale prior to competitive bidding9. This allows Soprintendenti to express their concern and apply protection orders before the State properties are sold. The required documentation and formats meet acceptable standards, but the technical committee of the Ministry and State property office underestimated the Soprintendenze's technical and time resources to take care of the bureaucratic procedures (see above).
Italia Nostra denounced the procedure's complexity and its failure in an initial application attempt between February 6th and April 2nd 2004 and again reiterated that the Soprintendenze are overwhelmed by workloads. Not only is the number of superintendents insufficient to cover all duties related to heritage protection but an endless change in directives, staff re-organisation and nominations (someone has even called it a 'dismantling of the Soprintendenze') could finally bring chaos and an upset to all positive expectations.
It should be useful to remember the proposals put forward by Marco Dezzi Bardeschi (2003) and Salvatore Settis (2002). Both would be in favour of a closer cooperation between universities and Soprintendenze, at least to complement and update inventories and documentation as well as monitoring the condition of remote and neglected monuments. For example, the risk map, a great achievement of the Instituto Centrale del Restauro in the last quarter of last century, should be used more to coordinate professionals and government bodies with the support of public and private organisations. Possibly new resources should be made available to finance the creation of coordination-offices that would act as facilitators between governmental institutions, academies and the private sector (bank foundations, and so on). The latter is investing a considerable amount of funds in arts and conservation but to date there is neither a strategic will for a fair distribution of the grants nor an interaction between parties and institutions that are keen to allocate funds on the basis of clear priorities.
Examples of similar cases worldwide show that the State's hands-off policy towards cultural heritage does not pay in the long term. Partnerships between State and private bodies in protecting and managing cultural properties are definitively positive, with an understanding that the advantage to the private bodies comes especially from tax incentives, rather than theoretical, and often illusory, direct economic advantage. The result would be a general improvement in the social and economic condition of the community in which the site is located, because of a conservation approach that is more balanced than an aggressive strategy to obtain revenue. The recent adoption in Italy of new cultural heritage legislation is a sign of the interest that the country has towards its heritage, alongside its commitment to assist UNESCO as one of that organisation's main donors. For this reason the con-
tradiction with the above trends is very evident, for a Government has not ever shown such as contrasting attitude towards its built and natural heritage as this one. The need for immediate returns to finance improbable tax reduction programs and absurd new infrastructure projects such as the bridge on the Messina Strait is guiding the the present Government's financial strategy.
The case of Italy shows that heritage can be at risk from its own governing bodies, if only economic values are taken into consideration when shaping policies of heritage protection and mise en valeur.
Gaetano Palumbo (ICOMOS UK)
Andrea Baldioli
Marco Acri

Dezzi Bardeschi, M 2003, Restauro: punto e da capo. Frammenti per una (impossibile) teoria. Milano: Franco Angeli
English Heritage 2002, The State of the Historic Environment Report 2002. Accessed at http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/sher/report.htm Hassler, U, G Algreen-Ussing, N Kohler 2002, Cultural heritage and sustainable development in SUIT. Accessed at http://www.lema.ulg.ac.be/ research/suit/Reports/Public/SUIT5.2c_PPaper.pdf
Klamer, A, and P Zuidhof 1999, The Values of Cultural Heritage: Merging Economic and Cultural Appraisals, pp. 23-61 in Economics and Heritage Conservation. Los Angeles: Getty
Masse-Stamberger, B, and T Richard 2004, A vendre, cause rforme de l'Etat...in L'Express March 15, 2004. Accessed at http://www.lexpress.fr/ info/economie/dossier/etatargent/dossier.asp
Myerscough, J 2001, Transversal reviews of National Cultural Policies: National Institutions in Transition: Desetatisation and privatisation. Final report. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, Council of Cultural Co-operation. CC-CULT (2001)10, accessed at http://www.coe.int/T/E/Cultural_Co-ope-ration/Culture/Resources/Publications/CC-CULT(2001)10_EN.pdf
Settis, S 2002, Italia SpA. L'assalto al patrimonio culturale. Torino: Einaudi.
Throsby, D 2002, Cultural Capital and Sustainability Concepts in the Economics of Cultural Heritage, pp. 101-118 in M de la Torre (ed) Assessing the Values of Cultural Heritage. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute
Emiliani, V 2004, Osservazioni al Codice, in www.patrimoniosos.it


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