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. The year 2016 saw 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 southern Mediterranean through humanitarian assistance and capacity building. In late 2015, through Italian funds allocated to UNESCO, and in collaboration with the National Heritage Institute in Tunisia, the ICCROM–ATHAR Regional Office organized a joint training initiative addressed to Libyan and Yemeni professionals on preventive conservation and risk preparedness for cultural heritage. In the same framework, ICCROM and UNESCO organized a conference on safeguarding Libyan cultural heritage sites in May 2016 (see Cooperation: Projects in Focus). And in October, Libyan professionals participated in an ICCROM-ATHAR leadership course with other experts from the Arab region on first aid and risk management in crises (see Training: Projects in Focus).
In its latest strategic cycle, ICCROM has focused strongly on disaster preparedness. Following multiple earthquakes in Central Italy in 2016, ICCROM leveraged its long-standing cooperation with Japan to bring visibility to Italy’s rescue of damaged heritage. In October, Eisuke Nishikawa, the new seismic expert on secondment to ICCROM from Japan, joined the Architectural Institute of Japan in a bilateral survey of buildings in the historic city of Amandola, 30 km north of the earthquake epicentre. Afterwards, Dr Nishikawa presented the mission findings at a conference entitled Prevention of Seismic Risk in Italy and Japan, organized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and held at the Italian Chamber of Deputies on 1 December 2016.
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.