Hadrian’s Villa and the proposed landfill– the straw that broke the camel’s back

The shock­ing deci­sion to cre­ate a mas­sive land­fill within a few hun­dred meters of Hadrian’s Villa, one of most well known, impor­tant cul­tural her­itage sites in the world is, to say the least, aston­ish­ing.  See last December’s CBS news video for a sum­mary of the land­fill project.

In light of the recent pum­mel­ing from the media that Italy has under­gone due to the lam­en­ta­ble con­di­tion of the her­itage man­age­ment at Pom­peii and the fre­quent frag­ments falling off the Colos­seum in the past cou­ple of years, it seems even more shock­ing to learn about the new plight of yet another world-famous site.

And, of course, in the face of it, one fre­quently asks, but what can I do?  What dif­fer­ence can I make?  With the deci­sion announced late last year (to be con­firmed this spring), there was not much time to act, either.   Luck­ily, a dear col­league and friend, Prof. Bernard Frischer, picked up the torch, as it were, and in a few min­utes cre­ated a peti­tion on ipe­ti­tion, reach­ing out, first, to col­leagues in the fields of clas­sics and archae­ol­ogy.  Early on, he also con­tacted my orga­ni­za­tion, ask­ing us to spon­sor the ini­tia­tive; I quickly agreed.  Between Frischer’s out­reach and my AIRC col­leagues’ tweet­ing and blog­ging, we have been happy to see the num­bers to quickly grow to almost 2800 sig­na­tures in just 2 weeks’ time.   The peti­tion is start­ing to have a life of its own– and we’ve done our part to per­son­ally deposit, for the record, the sig­na­tures with the proper author­i­ties in Rome (the end result of the petition).

Why are peo­ple so upset?   Why do they care, regard­less of nation­al­ity?  Just read some of the com­ments on the ipe­ti­tion, from stu­dents and mem­bers of the pub­lic to esteemed pro­fes­sors of Oxford Jas Elsner and Sal­va­tore Set­tis of La Nor­male di Pisa to orga­ni­za­tions like World Mon­u­ments Fund.

One look at Hadrian’s Villa from satel­lite pho­tos, or the many, famous “plas­tico” mod­els of the site, or, if you are lucky enough, a trip to the site, make you under­stand why. (See this great, aca­d­e­mic site for recent stud­ies of Hadrian’s Villa).

The emperor Hadrian’s organic cre­ation of space over 250 acres rep­re­sents some of the best exam­ples of Roman archi­tec­ture at the height of the empire.   You can’t help but fall in love with the site, sur­rounded by olive and cypress trees, iso­lated from the effects of urban devel­op­ment.  (Read UNESCO’s short sum­mary of the site.)

Let’s put this land­fill project into per­spec­tive with what’s going on with cul­tural her­itage around the world.  A recent assess­ment of China has revealed the dev­as­tat­ing effect of unchecked urban expan­sion on her­itage sites (circa 44,000 her­itage sites and mon­u­ments lost). Social unrest and war threat­ens sites in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Libya.  Back in Italy, so many of the sites are at a crit­i­cal junc­ture, after so many years of com­pre­hen­sive neglect and/or pro­longed expo­sure after exca­va­tions (from Pom­peii to Ostia Antica).  A lack of com­pre­hen­sive man­age­ment plans and lack of imple­men­ta­tion of funds toward the critically-needed daily care of sites have led the pub­lic at large to con­clude that Italy does not care about its her­itage, even as the num­ber of tourists is rapidly increas­ing in the same sites.  The real­ity is vastly more com­pli­cated than these brief obser­va­tions.  While fund­ing is chal­lenged, new pri­vate spon­sor­ship is on the hori­zon (e.g., Colos­seum, though not with­out prob­lems of imple­men­ta­tion).  And there are many suc­cess sto­ries.  In our upcom­ing Unlisted 2 con­fer­ence we’ll talk about the chal­lenges to cul­tural her­itage in archae­o­log­i­cal sites world­wide (and some solu­tions using social media and local finan­cial mod­els con­cen­trat­ing on local com­mu­ni­ties)  and high­light the suc­cess that the Via Appia Antica park has become.  This includes the superb work at Villa dei Quin­tilii (recently filmed for the newest Woody Allen movie, Nero Fiddled).

Over­all, though, Italy is per­ceived, through its face-value lack of invest­ment in its her­itage man­age­ment (vs. most Euro­pean coun­tries) ‚  the garbage-strewn, often aban­doned her­itage sites,  ram­pant graf­fiti, and less-than-caring atti­tude of employ­ees at sites– as not con­sis­tently car­ing about its her­itage.   And this is despite all of the great work that Italy  and impor­tant Ital­ian orga­ni­za­tions (e.g. Italia Nos­tra, FAI) are doing.

On all accounts, it is agreed by those sign­ers of the peti­tion that the land­fill will do irrepara­ble harm– not just to the site itself–  but to Italy itself.   This is a PR dis­as­ter in the mak­ing; Italy must show it can avert this new cri­sis to its cul­tural her­itage. The Econ­o­mist recently likened Prime Min­is­ter Mario Monti to Cincin­na­tus who self­lessly devoted his life to his coun­try in time of need.  Let’s hope that Cincin­na­tus can arrive in time from the fields to save one of Italy’s great trea­sures– Hadrian’s Villa.

Discussion3 Comments Category Archaeology, Conservation, Culture, Excavation, Rome, Sponsorship Tags , , ,

3 Responses to Hadrian’s Villa and the proposed landfill– the straw that broke the camel’s back

  1. Veni, vidi, vic­tus sum (amore Vil­lae Hadri­ani)” — yes, it is one of the most evoca­tive sites in all the clas­si­cal world, with its “Vale of Tempe” and the exquis­ite Cano­pus. All around are archi­tec­tural rem­i­nis­cences of places vis­ited by the most-travelled Emperor of all.
    How­ever appar­ently hid­den or dis­tant mod­ern intru­sions — in this case the pro­jected land­fill — may seem, their pres­ence and atmos­phere, the lat­ter often lit­er­ally, infect the whole area. The “genius loci” would be for­ever altered.
    It seems on occa­sion that the more wor­thy the object of con­ser­va­tion the more anx­ious the local author­i­ties are to inflict some bar­barism to its detriment.

  2. Reblogged this on Amer­i­can Insti­tute for Roman Cul­ture and com­mented:
    Great piece from Dar­ius on Villa Adriana.

  3. rias­sunto time!!!!

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