The Headquarters Agreement signed between UNESCO and Italy on 27 April 1957 gave a home to a new organization, ICCROM. Sixty years have now passed, and the dialogue with ICCROM’s host country is arguably now more important than ever.
Today, Italy is taking a leading role in cultural heritage protection at the international level, a role made clear through multiple diplomatic and humanitarian developments. This aspect of Italy’s foreign policy and cultural diplomacy is both the raison d’être and explanation for ICCROM’s location in Italy. Recent years have seen many opportunities for collaboration between ICCROM and its host country on these vital themes.
Italy is deeply committed to heritage protection, and its strong engagement in the Mediterranean region is a main pole of its international policy. Both directly and through coordination, ICCROM’s host country supports nations in the Mediterranean through humanitarian assistance and capacity building. These initiatives, often taken in conjunction with ICCROM activities, aim for a positive regional impact in Africa, the Arab region and southeastern Europe, as well as internationally. Moreover, given ICCROM’s strong focus on disaster preparedness, ICCROM has leveraged its long-standing cooperation with Japan to bring visibility to Italy’s rescue of damaged heritage following the earthquakes in Central Italy.
In the 60 years of ICCROM’s presence in Italy, the collaboration framework has greatly evolved. Born at the aftermath of the Second World War, ICCROM was called – in the first years of its activity – to address the issues of the post-war reconstruction, issues supported strongly by Italian institutions. In the early 1960s, ICCROM contributed to international campaigns in which Italy was a driving force — recovery from the Florence floods, the transfer of the Abu Simbel monument and other initiatives as well. In more recent years, as Italy has strengthened its cultural diplomacy beyond its borders, ICCROM has offered an ideal platform for joint initiatives in a worldwide scenario, addressing the growing complexity of the themes proposed by cultural heritage.
When a major disaster strikes, urban search and rescue (USAR) teams, under the coordination of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), are deployed within several hours. In these first moments, especially when disaster debris is removed, the affected region stands to lose most of its significant cultural heritage. Due to the extensive loss of cultural heritage during these first stages of a crisis, ICCROM has been striving to promote the integration of cultural heritage first aid into existing international guidelines for humanitarian aid and search and rescue operations.
The time to change behaviours, mindsets and approaches is now. This was the spirit behind discussions that took place on 21 June in the Italian city of Teramo, between a diverse group of University Rectors and cultural heritage experts representing 19 different African countries. The African University Rectors Conference, held during the “II International Forum of Gran Sasso” was an opportunity to take a fresh look at heritage protection in Africa from the point of view of prevention and the creation of opportunities for the next generation.
On the occasion of ICCROM’s upcoming Eighth International Course on First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis (FAC), to take place Rome later this year, an informal meeting was held on 29 May to celebrate the long-lasting partnership between ICCROM and its Italian partners.
Partners are essential for heritage conservation efforts, as collaboration can leverage various types of capital (e.g., financial, human, social, physical materials) for such activities as fundraising, management, research, education, and outreach. In disaster contexts, partnerships are needed to coordinate response efforts—and the importance of including cultural heritage conservation in response efforts is gaining more attention. In particular, ICCROM is increasingly viewed an important partner in both leveraging their network to access needed local expertise and training response workers in best management practices.
Sebastiano Tusa, head of the Coordination Service for Underwater Archaeological Research (Servizio per il Coordinamento delle Ricerche Archeologiche Sottomarine, SCRAS), has died. He was on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 that crashed outside Addis Ababa on 10 March. Dr Tusa was en route to a UNESCO-organized conference on underwater archaeological heritage held in Malindi, Kenya on 11 March.