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On 1 April, the Superintendent Francesco Prosperetti and the Domus Aurea staff presented the first sector of the new Sustainable Park created on the Oppian Hill above the Domus Aurea to the press. Present among others were Rome’s Councillor for Culture Giovanna Marinelli who spoke words of appreciation and support for the project
As readers will know, this marks the end of the first test phase, on a scale of 1:1, of the Rehabilitation Project for the Monument, corresponding to the area of the Pilot Worksite.
The complex drainage system and waterproof barriers installed in this first basin will be subject to constant monitoring for several months to check thermo-hygrometric levels. In the meantime, for the staff it was a great pleasure and enormous satisfaction to see so many people strolling along the new paths and children playing among the flowerbeds and lemon trees.
We will later publish the brochure prepared by the staff when work ended and a short press release on the event.
We would like to call readers’ attention to an interesting article (in Italian) with the title “Dal Madeinitaly al BrandItalia: una storia italiana”. We would like to deal with this issue in greater depth by starting a discussion on the Domus Aurea Worksite as a possible symbol of a new way of understanding “Italian value” that is not a function “only” of its immense cultural heritage and its infinite potential for exploitation but, especially in the eyes of the world, of a coherent and complex set of cultural, technical, scientific and entrepreneurial skills that, by ensuring its conservation, can contribute to the development and recognition of our national identity.
These concepts were clearly expressed, quoting Article 9 of the Italian Constitution, by the Italian Constitutional Court in a ruling of 1986 referring to the “primacy” of aesthetic and cultural value, which cannot be subordinated to other values, including economic ones; rather, it notes that the economy itself should draw inspiration from culture as a mark of its Italian identity. The promotion of knowledge and the safeguard of artistic heritage are not therefore just one activity ‘among the many’ for the Italian Republic but are enshrined in the Constitution and Italy’s millennial identity as a fundamental, public and inalienable mission (drawn from a speech made in 2003 by the then President of the Republic C. A. Ciampi (http://www.quirinale.it/Discorsi/Discorso.asp?id=22144).
Can the Domus Aurea, thanks to our Worksite aimed at its physical and cultural rehabilitation, become a symbol of a new Italian Renaissance for the second time in its history? If the answer is yes, would it not be worth guaranteeing its completion at all costs, precisely to suggest a new path towards the genuine rehabilitation of our country?
After the opening to the public of the Domus Aurea Worksite on Saturdays and Sundays, which continues to see an uninterrupted flow of visitors, work on the “Domus Aurea Project” continues both with consolidation inside the monument, to be described in detail in our forthcoming articles, and in the Oppian Hill Park .
We are proceeding with the complex structural rehabilitation work in the so-called “Little Barracks” and have finished consolidating and securing the decorated surfaces in rooms 24, 25, 56, 58, 59, 60, 63 and 116. We are currently in the process of finishing work in rooms 22, 23 and 62, which will shortly be completely free of scaffolding.
In the meantime, we have completed the tender process for the work to complete consolidation in rooms 32-33-34 and planned the new projects that will shortly enter the tender stage.
In the Oppian Hill park, in the area above the Domus Aurea, we have continued work to lay the provisional drainage layer, which seems to be performing its task of reducing the serious seepage of water into the interior of the monument effectively by ensuring surface drainage. We intend to extend this drainage project in order to allow us to continue work even during very heavy rainfall.
To the great satisfaction of all our staff, we are about to complete work in the Pilot Worksite as well. Here, after consolidating and repairing of the gaps in the ancient structures that appeared during excavations, we have finished putting in place the layers of the package comprising the “Integrated Protection System” with the network of drainage pipes and the cable ducts for the monitoring systems. All that remains to complete this important project test is the final phase, with the planting of the chosen trees and shrubs, the creation of the paths and the digging of the small drainage channels; then this first part of the new sustainable park will be ready.
In the meantime, digging work for the construction of the sewer pipe that will channel waters into the municipal system is underway.
We have updated the State of Progress and the expenditure report.
The new year began with a novelty for the Domus Aurea and for our team: our Director, Fedora Filippi, is now enjoying her well-earned pension! Fedora, widely known for her enormous scholarly competence, has also been for us an example of honesty, dedication to her work, and tenacity in achieving results and objectives. To her we also owe the idea for this blog, allowing the general public to keep up-to-date on the work and projects of our diverse team, and its publication; we hope she will continue to work on it. We are all sure that Fedora will not abandon the Domus Aurea, but that, albeit in different ways, she will continue to offer her scholarly contribution to the works and projects that she helped to shape and that we all share. The new Director of the monument is Ida Sciortino, who has been a member of the Domus Aurea staff for over twenty years and who has a profound knowledge of the monument and the complex problems it faces; readers will already be familiar with her as the coordinator of this blog and the authors of several articles.
We do not want to say goodbye to Fedora but “see you soon”, wishing her every happiness in her new life, and to Ida a warm welcome and “good luck”!
Recently the Domus Aurea has gained significant visibility with a series of public events at which it was present.
18 November saw the Domus Aurea Project Workshop, organized by us in collaboration with the German Archaeological Institute in Rome: large numbers of people participated in both the morning and the afternoon sessions.
During the morning session, presided by Prof. Fulvio Cairoli Giuliani, Fedora Filippi, Director of the monument, gave a paper on the overall rehabilitation project, an appraisal of 5 years of hard work. A brief survey of the monument’s institutional history highlighted the fact that on several occasions during the past century and the start of this century rehabilitation projects were begun, aimed particularly at resolving the problems of decay caused by the percolation of water from the park above, without ever succeeding in achieving this objective. This time, noted Fedora Filippi after outlining the data on the works and the choices made, we have a definitive project to replace the current park with an integrated protection system, to be completed in four years… the Domus can make it, it is surrounded by experts who have studied its behaviour and structural peculiarities in depth, developed a plan for intervention and a uniform methodology; this is an asset that must be preserved, enhanced and extended. If this work is not completed the benefits of the investments in consolidating the interior of the structure will soon be lost. The paper ended with the hope that this monument, that gave something of itself to the Italian Renaissance, will itself be reborn. We have a duty to give the Domus Aurea back the light it needs if it is to continue to produce cultural value (this, and no other, is its lofty mission), but above all to give it back the dignity of its historical authenticity.
Heinz Beste, an architect from the German Archaeological Institute in Rome who has collaborated with the project since 2006 with a research convention, discussed the graphic documentation, essential if work to rehabilitate the ancient architecture is to be carried out correctly. He demonstrated the recording techniques adopted, exploiting the new potential offered by instrumental recordings in parallel with traditional recordings based on the crucial direct observation of the structure. Over the past few years, we have worked hard to define correctly the topographical layout of both the interior and exterior of the monument, both in the known ancient levels and in relation to the current urban context. All these activities were necessary both to define individual consolidation projects inside the monument, on both its structures and the decorations on its surfaces, and to design the new Integrated Protection System. Naturally, a new and increasingly detailed understanding of the monument is of fundamental importance from a purely academic point of view as well. This demonstrates, once again, that processes of safeguard and conservation are inextricably linked to our understanding of ancient monuments and that both are connected to enhancement.
During the morning, we also presented a technical report on the Project for the Integrated Protection System and the New Sustainable Park.
Sandro Massa, responsible for the physical design process, illustrated the thermo-hygrometric study and the results of the various tests carried out. Vincenzo Angeloro dealt with the technological, hydrological and hydraulic problems of the System whilst Gabriella Strano illustrated the methodological, historical and landscaping choices governing the project for the new park: on the one hand it completes the Integrated Protection System and on the other restores public perception of the connections between the two ancient monuments, the Domus Aurea and the Baths of Trajan through its design.
During the afternoon, the workshop tackled the more general issue of the conservation problems of underground monuments. This discussion was of enormous interest, in part for the large amount of information shared and the experience brought to the table by the directors of monumental complexes dealing with the difficulties deriving from their underground condition and the presence of decorations.
Sandro Massa introduced the topic from a general methodological point of view with a series of examples and experiences, including negative ones, in funerary contexts in Italy, Egypt and the East.
Gisella Capponi, Director of the Istituto superiore per il restauro illustrated, on behalf of the group of specialists who participated, the conservation work on two rooms in the Domus Aurea, started in the 1980s to test the effects of hermetic closure from the outside.
Rita Volpe, Sovraintendenza Capitolina per i Beni Culturali, discussed the problems, very similar to those of the Domus Aurea, in the sector underneath the large exhedra in the Baths of Trajan where extremely important remains of decorated rooms have come to light with both frescoed surfaces and walls covered with mosaics.
Ida Sciortino presented the conservation work completed by SSBAR in the Underground Basilica at Porta Maggiore, an extraordinary complex with 1st-century stucco decorations, where serious problems caused by outdoor pollution, the presence of the railway and radon, a gas that develops in underground spaces and whose levels most be controlled, were resolved.
Barbara Mazzei, Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, gave an interesting general paper on the conservation problems of Christian catacombs and on the various solutions adopted, with special reference both to climate issues and the consolidation of the tufa rock into which the underground rooms were dug.
Marian Magnani Cianetti, SSBAR Architect, illustrated the rehabilitation and enhancement project for the Jewish catacombs at Villa Torlonia, with reference both to issues specific to consolidation and to the problems concerning the insertion of the complex inside a historic park.
Pietro Zander, Archaeologist at the Fabbrica di San Pietro in the Vatican, concluded with an interesting paper on the Vatican necropolis, focusing on the conservation problems of this extraordinary complex, located beneath various structural layers covering thousands of years that make up St Peter’s Basilica, one of the world’s most visited and frequented places.