SARONNO, Italy - Italia Nostra is a non-profit organization based in Rome. It was founded in 1955 with the specific purpose of protesting the projected demolition of part of the city’s historic center.
From the beginning, the organization focused on promoting a more sensitive approach to urban planning, which included the preservation of historic architecture. Today there are more than 200 Italia Nostra affiliates across Italy dedicated to the protection and promotion of the country’s historical, artistic and environmental patrimony.
As the government systematically cuts away at the already tiny budget set aside for conservation, Italy’s cultural patrimony is in danger of crumbling, and Italia Nostra is waving the red flag.
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In this country, sprinkled with Roman aqueducts and amphitheatres, medieval piazzas and renaissance palazzos, only a tiny portion of the national budget is allotted to conservation, far less than other countries with a fraction of the patrimony.
According to the latest figures available from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Italy earmarked only 0.8% of its public spending to culture and leisure in 2006. This put it at number 22 on a list of 27 countries for which heritage conservation statistics were available.
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All you have to do is look across the border to France to see the difference. France, has 20 national museums, while in Italy there are 400. There are 25,000 protected buildings in France, while in Italy there are between 350,000 and 400,000, and yet France spends twice as much to protect its heritage.
To make matters worse, in Italy the bulk of the tiny budget is generally allotted for restoration and conservation of the most popular sites, like the Coliseum in Rome and Pompeii. The rest are all at risk.
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Few tourists who come into Rome by taxi realize as they speed through the Porta San Giovanni that the walls on both sides of the Porta were built in the 3rd century. The so-called Aurelian walls, of which some 8 miles remain, are among the glories of the Eternal City. They were built between 270 and 273 BC by the Roman Emperor Aurelian. Yet the Romans, as well as tourists, take them for granted, and the result is that they are gradually crumbling. A 15-metre stretch collapsed in 2007.
|Section of Aurelian Wall|
The Aurelian walls are perhaps the biggest structure on Italia Nostra's "red list". So far, it takes in only seven of Italy's 20 regions, but it already comprises the names of 60 severely endangered buildings and sites.
They include barely known castles, far off the beaten tourist track, such as the one at Olcenengo in Piedmont, and archaeological sites of acknowledged importance such as the 7th century Greek settlement at Selinunte in the valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily.
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No one can visit Italy without looking at the crumbling buildings and monuments that you find everywhere and wonder why the government doesn’t do more to conserve them. The fact that there are so many is precisely the problem.
There are entire nations whose total cultural heritage isn’t a fraction of what you will find just in the city of Rome or in Florence, or many other Italian cities, particularly in southern Italy. This is not a new phenomenon. The Italian government has traditionally been indifferent to conservation. The feeling seems to be that it will all be there forever.
To find out more about Italia Nostra, visit their web site (in Italian) at www.italianostra.org, or contact them at: Viale Liegi, 33, 00198 Rome Italy, Tel. 068537271/Fax. 0685350596.
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