e-rph 20, jun. 17 | ISSN 1988-7213 | revista semestral
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e-rph nº 20, junio 2017
Intervención | Experiencias
Terremotos y reconstrucción. Proyectos y experiencias de Italia | Lucia Serafini


How much can we hope to understand those who have
suffered deeper anguish, greater deprivation,
and more crushing disappointments than we ourselves have known?

(Omar Pamuk)

1.- The center Italy, land of earthquakes

The start of the third millennium has been devastating for Italy because of the number and intensity of seismic events the country has experienced.

From the Molise earthquake in 2002, to the quake that struck the city of L’Aquila and much of the Abruzzo region in 2009, to the latest disaster on 18 January 2017 that disfigured the L’Aquila province yet again, this time with the villages of Montereale and Capitignano at its epicentres. Central Italy has been hardest hit by a series of earth movements that show no signs of stopping and that stands out tragically in the history of an area that has always been at high risk (Galadini-Varagnoli, 2016).

Orographically, the central Appenine region is one of the most impervious of the entire peninsula, with a complex genetic seismic structure that is often marked by landslides and slabs of rock(1). This is why the areas affected extend far beyond the epicentre, including apparently peripheral areas. This was the case of the earthquake that struck Emilia Romagna and the Padan Plain in May 2012, and especially for the Amatrice earthquake in Lazio, where the magnitude of the series of shocks peaked on 24 August and 30 October 2016, and impacted a very large area to varying degrees, not only Lazio and Abruzzo, once again, but also Umbria and the Marche, that had already been wounded by the earthquake in 1997(2).

Many earthquakes of “historic” proportions have struck central Italy over the past millennium (Rovida-Locati-Camassi-Lolli-Gasperini, 2016). The city of L’Aquila for example, struck by the earthquake in 2009, was born of an intricate urban reconstruction plan after the “great earthquake” of 1703, so named for the extensive devastation caused to the entire L’Aquila basin by a quake measuring 6.8 on the Richter Scale. It was the echo of an earlier earthquake that struck the same area in the autumn of 1461.

Because of the recent nature of the events, the future of the areas struck in past months is still unclear(3). This uncertainty is also due to the fact that Italy lacks not only a prevention culture—as tragically demonstrated by the landslide that immediately followed the 18 January earthquake burying the Rigopiano hotel (built at the base of a gully between the Maiella mountains) in Farindola in the province of Pescara—but also a single legislative framework to guarantee a homogenous response not only during the initial emergency period but also, and more importantly, for the reconstruction of individual buildings and entire cities, with all the predictable consequences in terms of times and means. Parliament is currently examining the so-called “Casa Italia” project, which aims to protect all of Italy in the next twenty years. It shows great potential but comes up against the often repeated experience of delays that are detrimental for the fate of our architectural heritage and the social fabric that its very reason for existing.

The errors committed and acknowledged, especially during the consolidation phase for damaged buildings that were destroyed to varying degrees by earthquakes and other accidents, have led to a few attitude changes regarding the search for greater and better physical and structural compatibility between the proposed interventions and the historic buildings. However, they have not prevented new damage to our heritage by both earthquakes and flooding (often tragically linked). Some recent examples include the Nera River that rose to dangerously high levels following the 18 January earthquake, or Torbidone Creek, which reappeared on the Santa Scolastica plain in the Marche after decades of absence. Awareness has been growing in recent decades of just how vulnerable our physical environment is and of the ensuing need to establish new regional policies. Sadly, it has not resulted in any critical mass capable of reflecting on the causes of the disasters or defining a coherent approach to deal with the problems. A long-ago—nonetheless pertinent—example, is the response of southern intellectuals to the earthquake that struck Calabria and Sicily in 1783. Another is the animated debate that arose in response to the devastating Lisbon earthquake in 1755, with a fatalistic Voltaire on the one hand, intent on demolishing the naïve optimism that all is for the best in “the best of all possible worlds”, and the historicist Rousseau, who pointedly retorted that “it was hardly nature who assembled there twenty-thousand houses of six or seven stories” (Tagliapietra, 2004; Placanica 1985).

Therefore, as more or less recent history teaches us, every earthquake in Italy is unique in terms of destruction and reconstruction, and each one demands empirical approaches related not only to the scope and type of damage, but also to the geomorphological variances of the affected areas, to their social and economic structure and therefore to their resulting potential for recovery and development. The Abruzzo earthquake in 2009 is exemplary in this regard(4).

The actions following the 2012 earthquake in Emilia Romagna responded to a need to quickly rebuild huge numbers of manufacturing buildings in one of the country’s most heavily industrialised regions, particular because of the economic crisis(5). In 2009, however, the reconstruction that was planned and begun after the earthquake, concerned a provincial capital, L’Aquila, one of Italy’s most beautiful and important cities, as well as a multitude of towns and villages scattered throughout the entire Abruzzo area(6). So, on the one hand, we had a city prestigious for its regional institutional role, as a nationally renowned university city with students from around the world living in its historic centre, and for its wealth of civil and religious monuments due to the intense Baroque rebuilding campaign after the 18th-century earthquake. On the other hand, we have a network of towns and villages, disadvantaged from an orographic viewpoint and outside any traffic and communications networks, and so abandoned—though almost never entirely. These tiny centres come to life every summer with vacationers returning to their summer residences, one of the areas’ few economic lines of defence.

The distance, hardly ideal, between L’Aquila and the towns and villages was also increased by the unique time in history in which the earthquake occurred, just before the G8 summit. The meeting was initially to be held at Island of Maddalena in Sardinia, but the government changed the venue to the wounded provincial capital in a brilliant media coup de théâtre. In this way, the city served not only as a paradigm of good politics and patriotism, but also as a stage for an international event with the ruins as a backdrop. Pain and piety were put on full display but were sterile compared to the concrete problems the region and its thousands of displaced citizens faced (Mazzoleni-Sfardini, 2009; Travaglio, 2009; Andreassi, 2012; Felice, 2010).

Beyond the stereotypes and the clichés, and promises made but rarely kept by major world powers to adopt monuments and finance their reconstruction, it is clear that this event shone a spotlight on the city like never before. There was unanimous recognition, even after years of controversy and delays, that L’Aquila is a “unique monument of absolute cultural value”(7), and of the need to preserve its specific identity through targeted and well-thought-out reconstruction and restorations. The same cannot be said, however, for the towns and villages, whose reconstruction immediately appeared uncertain, bogged down by questions of costs and benefits, as well as concrete economic feasibility (Bulian, 2009, pp. 10-11; Spagnesi, 2010, pp. 31-42; Aa.Vv. 2010; Montanari, 2013, pp. 68-73, Settis, 2014, pp. 89-93).

Therefore, confidence in the possibility of rebuilding L’Aquila was reflected in the choice of an existing urban development plan from the 1970s. For the towns and villages, however it was decided to draw up totally new plans, under the illusion—disproven by the facts, one might say—that reconstruction might be faster and easier, at least for L’Aquila, and above all backed by an already defined legislative framework.

Below, we will describe the efforts of the Faculty of Architecture of Università “G. d’Annunzio di Chieti-Pescara” to propose essential preservation and restoration rules for any type of work on any historic asset. In this case, this concerns not just L’Aquila, but also its neighbouring towns and villages, not only major monuments but also ones forgotten by official written history, and not just beautiful churches and palaces but also the fabric of buildings that have for centuries formed the warp and weft of urban life, and that often preserve the innermost markings of the cities that rise from the rubble after earthquakes.

The activity we are referring to concerns the experiences of a group of professors, including the author, led by Claudio Varagnoli, who were called to draft some of the reconstruction plans for the L’Aquila crater. These plans were unique in that they refused to adopt an entirely engineering and/or urbanistic approach to reconstruction, but chose to adopt a multidisciplinary view to address the complex transformations underway and bring together conservation bodies with the sacrosanct security and innovation authorities that are essential for regions like Abruzzo that have remained on the outskirts of the national economy, especially in certain areas. Here, not only must homes be rebuilt, but meaning has to be restored to things, to recovery efforts started with an understanding of the value and scope of complete operations to resume life in human capital, social and productive terms (Clementi-Fusero, 2011; Clementi-Di Venosa, 2012, pp. 17-35. Varagnoli-Serafini-Verazzo, 2012, pp. 1-10; Varagnoli, 2013, pp. 257-262)(8).

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