2018 World Monuments Watch
Beginning in the summer of 2016, a sequence of earthquakes has rattled Central Italy, resulting in tragic loss of life and property. The earthquake that struck in the early morning of August 24, 2016 devastated the hill town of Amatrice, causing 299 deaths and approximately 400 injuries. Later that day, the mayor of Amatrice poignantly declared: “The town is no more.” Today, more than a year later, with much of the rubble still in place, the historic city remains uninhabited and inaccessible. Numerous aftershocks and smaller tremors have forced thousands in Italy’s central region to leave their homes. Outside Amatrice, a temporary settlement has been erected out of prefabricated buildings to house displaced residents.
In total, damages to property and infrastructure from recent seismic events have been estimated at more than 20 billion euros. And while government aid was promptly announced, local communities have continuously called for more concrete steps towards recovery, which could last for years. For this reason, the 2018 World Monuments Watch is an expression of sustained international interest in the future of Amatrice.
Italy is famously prone to earthquakes, and even earthquakes of smaller magnitude can be devastating to unreinforced masonry buildings. Yet the cultural value that these buildings embody – through their design, materials, and workmanship – can fuel community resilience and become a key component on the road to recovery. In Amatrice, although most of the town’s buildings collapsed, the bell tower of the medieval church of Sant’Emidio survived, an emblem of hope and resilience amid the devastation. (The bell tower of the church of Sant'Agostino also survived, only to collapse in a subsequent tremor.) Since 2002, the church of Sant’Emidio had housed the city’s museum, named after Cola Filotesio, a Renaissance artist from Amatrice. Much of the museum’s collection was salvaged thanks to emergency responders, but the ruined remains of the building now require structural stabilization and sheltering.
As the debate about future reconstruction of this and other buildings takes place, the 2018 Watch is also a reminder of the need for better disaster prevention and preparedness, which Italy has pioneered. That includes retrofitting historic buildings to render them more resistant to earthquakes, even as our knowledge of the best methods to use continually evolves. It also includes compiling accurate inventories of all heritage assets and engaging in emergency planning, for when disaster strikes.