Italy seeks help to restore quake-damaged churches

Thursday, April 9th 2009, 11:44 am
By: News 9

ROME (AP) -- Italy appealed Thursday for international assistance to restore historic churches, palazzi and other monuments damaged by this week's earthquake, warning it will take years and millions of euros (dollars) to repair the treasures, if they can be saved at all.
   Some euro30 million ($39.82 million) is necessary for early operations alone, such as securing the buildings, Giuseppe Proietti, the secretary-general of Italy's Culture Ministry, told The Associated Press.
   The 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the medieval city of L'Aquila and several other towns in central Italy Monday, leveling buildings and reducing entire blocks to piles of rubble. Many Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance landmarks were damaged, and on Wednesday, teams began inspecting the wreckage.
   Proietti said public and private institutions in a number of countries, including Germany and France, have already contacted Italian officials with offers of help. Australians with ancestors from the quake-hit region have pledged assistance, as have universities and other institutions in Italy.
   Premier Silvio Berlusconi has suggested that the United States could help as well.
   While Proietti said Italy was mainly seeking funding for Italian restorers to do the work, the Vatican has appealed to experts worldwide to volunteer to restore paintings and other treasures from the damaged sites.
   Among the broken churches in L'Aquila is the 13th-century basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, which Proietti described as the symbol of the city. A huge chunk of the roof covering the transept, or cross-section, of the basilica caved in. The church's Romanesque facade, noted for its geometrical designs in red-and-white stone, appeared undamaged, Proietti said.
   The church houses the tomb of its founder, Pope Celestine V -- a 13th-century hermit and saint who was the only pontiff to resign from the post.
   The medieval Anime Sante Church, an important house of worship for locals, lost its dome.
   The bell tower of the 16th-century San Bernardino church -- its own construction delayed by 15th century quakes -- collapsed, while the church's dome also sustained damage. And the cupola of the Baroque Sant'Agostino church fell in.
   The city's ancient wall also crumbled at parts, and one of the doors to the city partially collapsed.
   Proietti said that in some cases, restorers may try to piece together the fragments of shattered frescoes. But he said it was proving difficult to even retrieve the pieces in the rubble. In some cases, it might not be possible at all, he said.
   By way of comparison, it took restorers nine years to complete the restoration on the famed Cimabue and Giotto frescoes in the Basilica of San Francis in Assisi that shattered in a 1997 earthquake.
   Proietti said the Anime Sante dome will likely be reconstructed anew, but in a way that will make it clear it is not the original one.
   "Cultural heritage by its own nature cannot be reproduced," he said. Even if a replacement is made, "the artwork is lost and can no longer be the original one."