How Cultural Divide can put Cultural Heritage at Risk

The seismic events that have damaged cities and towns in central Italy in recent years destroyed, or irreparably damaged, important examples of architecture. Behind several of these damages, it is known among experts in the sector that bad management of the safety interventions of the buildings must be recognized. Emblematic cases can be identified in the earthquakes that, between 1997 and 2017, struck the regions of Abruzzo and Umbria in Italy.

Image of the vault of the upper Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, which collapsed after the 26th September 1997 earthquake. The use of reinforced concrete beams in the roof was suspected to be a possible cause of the collapse, in which four people died while carrying out an inspection to detect damage caused by the previous night’s shock. Image: Wikipedia
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ICOMOS 2003 Charter on Restoration and Safety of Cultural Heritage. Fire Safety approach aspects to Historical Buildings and Emergency Management?

ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites), is a global non-governmental organization associated with UNESCO dedicated to the conservation of the world’s monuments and sites. One of its most active areas of interest is, then, the conservation and restoration of sites and monuments. The list of documents concerning such commitment has been published in 1998:

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Titian painting damaged during Fire in Venice Church (Italy)

bOn august 29th 2010, at 10 p.m., a fire has started at the roof level of the building near the Venice Salute Church. The fire, which could be an arson (witnesses have heard two explosions and the fire started in two different points), spread immediately to the roof of the church. Firefighters have used large amounts of water to limit the spread of the blaze, in order to avoid the collapse of the roofs of the rooms of the church.

In few hours the fire has been extinguished.

The morning after the fire, the Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) painting “Davide and Goliath” has been removed from its location (in a room directly connected to the church main hall) in order to limit damages due to water used by firefigthers.

The roof of the Santa Maria della Salute Church, threatened by the fire, is considered one of the most remarkable in Venice.

In the recent years firefigthers have started using to extinguish fires water from the new city fire hydrant system. Such water is much less aggressive than the lagoon water, used until few years ago and it has limited damages to the painting.

Fire Safety Retrofitting in Historical Buildings

1aImproving fire safety level of historical buildings is one of the most common problems to deal with after a fire risk assessment. The theme is not easy, since fire safety technical issues are relevant as conservation ones.  In August 1989, the US Government Agency General Service Administration published the paper “Fire Safety Retrofitting in Historical Buildings” in cooperation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The document provides guidance to ensure that fire safety retrofitting has minimal impact on the historic features of the property.


Restoration of Sungnyemun Gate, Seoul (Korea)

On Feb. 11, 2008, a fire destroyed Seoul’s 600-year-old Sungnyemun Gate (official name of the Namdaemun), after a five-hour battle by 120 firefighters  that failed to save South Korea’s top national treasure. The capital’s oldest wooden structure (landmark listed as National Treasure No.1), also known as Namdaemun (gate of respecting propriety), caught fire at 8:46 p.m.  and was burnt to its foundations by 2 a.m.

How Is Restoration proceeding? The Cultural Heritage Administration said restoration of the gate will be undertaken in three phases. The first phase of preserving the fire-stricken site was completed on May 2009. The second phase of investigation, excavation and design is underway. Digging will resume soon to discover the exact location of walls, roads and ponds that used to surround the gate in the past. The third phase of reconstruction will begin around January next year for completion in 2012. The government will spend about 25 billion won on the reconstruction project.

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