“Rovine. La forza delle rovine” (“Ruins: the power of ruins”), is the title of a wonderful exhibition that has recently opened at Palazzo Altemps, Roman National Museums. Curated by Marcello Barbanera, who also edited the exhibition catalogue (Electa, 2015) with Alessandra Capodiferro, the exhibition portrays the fascination aroused by physical remains of past civilization, whether sculpture, architecture, inscriptions, fragments or ruins, in almost all cultures throughout the centuries. This subject certainly deserves the attention of professionals and all those interested in cultural heritage conservation.
In a building that houses some of the most important ancient Roman sculptural collections, including those of the noble Boncompagni-Ludovisi and Mattei families, the exhibition brings modern and contemporary sculptures together with works of different types, such as music and short films. Inspired by the sight of ruins, the works further reflect on the fragility and ultimate decadence of even the most glorious material remains of past great civilizations. A sense of melancholy co-exists with an awareness that these ruins offer up an exercise in memory. A great virtue based on the self-consciousness entrusted to humankind, memory is what makes humans special in the animal kingdom: we can reflect on our history, thereby challenging the millennia and the ravages of time.
It is inevitable that earthquakes and natural disasters inexorably destroy almost all human creations. It is perhaps also inevitable that human creations are lost due to human conflicts. Our job is to minimize these losses. What is inconceivable is that there are those who intentionally destroy these precious rests of human memory, as is happening in Syria and Iraq today. The aim is to rupture the continuity that links the civilizations of human history. Absurd justifications of such actions in the divine name betray a failure to realize that humankind’s own divinity lies in the virtue of our memory, quite beyond any differences in religious or secular beliefs.
Stefano De Caro
Director-General of ICCROM