After Quake, an Italian Crisis Unit Races to Rescue a Region’s Heritage
AMATRICE, Italy — The rescuers worked tirelessly under a scorching sun. Wearing white masks to fight off the dust, they formed a human chain, passing from hand to hand all they could salvage from the gravelly destruction of the earthquake that struck this region in August. They had to work quickly, fearing the precariousness of an adjacent building splintered by wide fissures.
It was not lives they were saving on this recent day, nor corpses they were retrieving from the mounds of stone ruins, but the history of Amatrice itself. Working alongside firefighters, the team included a specialized art squad of Italy’s carabinieri police that had been deployed specifically to vacate the city’s municipal archives — 300 years in the making.
At least 296 people died in the violent shaking on Aug 24. Many more were left homeless and injured. But those few, fraught and devastating minutes also placed at risk thousands of books, dossiers and folders amassed since past earthquakes destroyed this town in 1639 and 1703. There were also countless pieces of art and artifacts in churches and museums across the earthquake zone, which touches towns in four Italian regions.
“For now, we have secured a trace of Amatrice’s past — that’s the principal thing, that the community has preserved its history,” said Maria Letizia Sebastiani, the Culture Ministry official who oversaw that afternoon’s recovery.
“目前，我们找到了阿马特里切的过去的痕迹，这个地区保留了自己的历史，这是主要的，”负责那天下午的抢救工作的意大利文化部官员玛丽亚·莱蒂齐娅·塞巴斯蒂安(Maria Letizia Sebastiani)说。
The crisis unit of the Culture Ministry was created after an earthquake engulfed central Italy in 1997, severely damaging a number of monuments, including the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. It has since been deployed in dozens of disasters, both natural and man-made, in Italy and abroad, and last year was formally instituted via a ministerial decree.
1997年，意大利中部发生地震，导致大量历史遗址，包括阿西西的圣方济各宗主教圣殿(Basilica of St. Francis)严重受损。之后，意大利文化部成立危机应对小组。自那时以来，该小组参与了意大利国内外数十场灾难的救灾行动，既有自然灾害，也有人为灾难。去年，文化部下令，该小组正式成为一个机构。
This year, the Culture Ministry even created a task force that works with UNESCO to carry Italy’s long-standing restoration expertise to war-torn corners of the world. United Nations officials had hoped to send it to Syria, where the monumental ruins in Palmyra were badly damaged after the Islamic State entered the ancient city in 2015. But the Syrian conflict has remained too intense for the team to enter.
“We’re operative, ready to go at a moment’s notice,” said Capt. Michelange Stefàno, an official with the carabinieri art squad and a member of the UNESCO-trained task force.
For now, in any case, there is work to be done in Italy.
The crisis unit was dispatched in the first hours after the earthquake. As emergency operations were winding down, trained experts began inspecting buildings to assess the damage to the area’s cultural patrimony.
Since then, squads of rescuers and Culture Ministry officials have entered churches, museums and town halls, all with an eye to saving the territory’s heritage, and its very memory of its past.
Paintings, statues and ecclesiastical objects, like crucifixes and processional crosses, have been bundled and sent to what amount to field hospitals for art and artifacts, for preservation and an early evaluation of the damage.
The work has been risky and painstaking. Many buildings in Amatrice and elsewhere are still in danger of collapse, and weeks after the quake, aftershocks continued to strain already-weakened structures.
The teams photograph and document artifacts, and recover what can be easily removed from some sites — “those that we can enter; many are still in a bad state,” Stefàno said — with the assistance of firefighters and civil protection rescuers.
The crisis unit’s immediate task was to safeguard monuments as best as possible, “to halt any further deterioration,” said Prefect Fabio Carapezza Guttuso, the unit’s leader, who acts as a liaison between art experts and firefighters and civil protection officials.
上述危机应对小组的首要任务是尽可能让历史遗迹得到最好的保护，“防止受损情况进一步恶化，”该小组的组长法比奥·卡拉佩扎·古图索(Fabio Carapezza Guttuso)说。他也是艺术专家、消防员和民事保护官员之间的联络人。
He described it as a complex but harmonious synergy of individual expertise. Experience gained in every disaster that the unit has dealt with “has improved our capacity to intervene,” he said.
In the weeks since the quake, the crisis unit has emptied Amatrice’s municipal museum, as well as some churches here and in towns including Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto, which were also badly hit.
地震发生后的这几周里，危机应对小组清空了阿马特里切市博物馆，还有这里以及同样受灾严重的阿库莫利(Accumoli)和阿尔夸塔德尔特龙托(Arquata del Tronto)等城镇的一些教堂。
But thousands of artifacts still need to be salvaged from unsteady churches and palazzos, many in remote areas. “One by one, we will get to them all,” the prefect said.
Though each operation is being carried out with every possible precaution, an element of urgency prevails. “We’re at 1,000 meters altitude,” Carapezza Guttuso said. “There will be snow in a month.”
Some priorities were identified, the prefect said, like an 18th-century replica of the Shroud of Turin, the linen that faithful believe wrapped the body of Jesus. It was removed from a church in Arquata del Tronto and placed in the Cathedral of Ascoli Piceno.
古图索说，他们确定了一些优先事项，譬如都灵裹尸布(Shroud of Turin)——据信曾包裹过耶稣尸身的亚麻布——的一件18世纪的复制品。他们把它从阿尔夸塔德尔特龙托村的一座教堂里转移出来，放进了阿斯科利皮切诺大教堂(Cathedral of Ascoli Piceno)。
“It was important for the population,” he said. “It had the value of a relic.”
Restorers with the crisis unit have also begun to pick out ancient stones and bricks from the rubble, which will be reused when possible in a reconstruction.
“As much as possible, the idea is to build as it was, where it was,” the prefect said. “We want to render the idea that we are salvaging artifacts and construction materials” so that the towns will be as authentic as possible, he added. “That is the profound sense of what we’re doing.”