L’Aquila staggers towards recovery on fourth anniversary of quake
Some restoration projects are finally under way, but for residents it is too little too late
By Ermanno Rivetti. Web only
Published online: 01 April 2013
As the fourth anniversary of the earthquake that devastated L’Aquila comes up on 6 April, the Italian town’s fate finally seems to be improving. Some restoration projects are already under way, although locals are still holding protests and art historians are up in arms over proposed plans to build a shopping mall and car park beneath the main square.
After the quake, the town and the surrounding areas were immediately placed under emergency rule by the Berlusconi-led government, and the usual regional and local authorities were overruled. Hardly any restoration work was carried out on L’Aquila’s ravaged centre for three years and it remained a ghost town, while 13 controversially expensive “new towns” were built on the outskirts for the 73,000 homeless residents. These were built without any kind of tendering process, sparking several allegations of government corruption.
The first round of overdue restoration projects, funded by the Italian government, is now under way, just months after power was handed back to the local authorities. The regional arm of the ministry of culture has said that, this year, €150m will be spent on 50 projects, a little less than half of which are already active, with the remaining ones expected to start soon. Notably, the government will spend an initial €14m to restore the 15th-century Spanish castle, which houses the Museo Nazionale d'Abruzzo, and €10m will be spent on the 18th-century Duomo in L’Aquila’s main square.
Foreign governments have also pitched in to help: Russia donated €7.2m towards the restoration of the 18th-century Baroque Palazzo Ardinghelli and France gave €6.5m to the church of Santa Maria del Suffragio, while Germany is sponsoring the restoration of the church of San Pietro Apostolo, in the neighbouring town of Onna, with €3.5m.
This may seem like a good start, but it is too little too late for the town's residents, who organised an ironic “non-restoration” party at the end of March. Even the town's mayor, Massimo Cialente, was invited.
Cialente and Fabrizio Magani, the regional head of the ministry of culture, have refused to comment on the proposed plans to build a €36m, 4,200 sq. m shopping mall and 525-space car park right under the Piazza del Duomo—while the historic building itself is still in ruins. The proposal predictably sparked protests around the country, with Tom Campbell, the director of New York's Metropolitan Museum, and Henri Loyrette, the outgoing director of the Louvre, reportedly signing a petition that was eventually delivered to Cialente. For the moment, the plan development seems to have stalled.
Meanwhile, art historians have been invited to meet in L’Aquila on 5 May to discuss the state of the town and the country's heritage in general. Tomaso Montanari, a prominent art historian and a noted campaigner for Italy's heritage, says there is a “visible difference” now that the works have started, but that it is only the beginning. “You can't really gauge the level of damage through photographs,” he continues, but he has faith in the town's rebirth because of its university, which “will continue to attract young people”.
The amount of damage to the town's historic centre and the surrounding area is so vast that works are expected to carry on at least until 2021. Restoration will involve around 485 separate sites and will cost an estimated €525m.
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