Trieste Contemporanea november 2000 n.6/7

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by Alessandra Knowles

The 1964 International Charter of Venice for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites, considered by some a monument in its own right, established at the time theoretical principles and methodological approaches that still remain for the greater part valid. The Cracow International Conference on Restoration was intended as an occasion to reflect on the implications of the progressive broadening of the concept of monument and to set out the objectives of conservation of heritage in the light of the new needs arising in the cultural context of the end of the second millennium. If it is true that on the one hand the Venice Charter could not foresee the extent of that broadening, on the other it recorded, albeit in prefatory form, its advent. In earlier documents - the Athens Charter dates back to 1931 - the principles of conservation were tied to considerations of a politico-nationalistic nature and hence the monument, understood as being an architectural work, was the subject of preservation on the basis of judgements of value of the formal and historical type. The diffusion after the second world war of the principle of “public interest” brought to light the necessity to put the notion of a monument back into a context of wider social significance and use. It is in this sense that must be seen the extension, put into effect with the Venice Charter, of the notion of historical monument to include “not only the single architectural work but also the urban or rural setting in which is found the evidence of a particular civilisation, a significant development or an historic event” including “more modest works which have acquired cultural significance”. The purpose of the work of restoration remained however that of “preserving and revealing the aesthetic and historic value of the monument”. In the course of the subsequent thirty-five years a growing number of Declarations, Documents and National Charters have joined the Venice Charter, leading to a gradual extension of the idea of heritage to include historical cities and urban areas; vernacular, industrial and modern architecture; gardens and historical landscapes; in other words, the “places of cultural significance”, as it was put in the Burra Charter (Australia, 1979), whose value “for past, present and future generations” was called upon to be established on the basis of aesthetic, historical, scientific and social considerations. There thus came to be defined the concept of cultural heritage, sufficiently wide as to accommodate the claims made by representatives of cultures other than the European one with which they could not identify. The problems which emerged in the debate, by then world-wide, underlie the Nara Document on Authenticity (Japan, 1994) which endeavoured to set out universal principles that would relate the values attributed to cultural heritage to the concept of cultural identity, understood as diversity and plurality to be protected as being irreplaceable sources of enrichment for humanity. This led to the need to base judgements of value and authenticity of the cultural heritage not on fixed criteria but on a variety of information sources concerning not only form and substance but also use, function, tradition, place and spirit. The Cracow International Conference on Conservation was inserted into this complex and many-faceted panorama and involved three years of intensive activity to collect, collate and set out in a final document the multiple aspects of built heritage, taking into full account its tangible and intangible aspects. There has emerged in the course of this activity the difficulty in establishing universal selection criteria and methods and therefore the necessity to formulate a new strategy - the restoration project - that guarantees flexibility of purpose and responds to the requirement for a multi-disciplinary approach to the most varied of claims for conservation. This strategy provides the possibility of finding a solution suited to the many problems that are to be found today in the matter of conservation, not least the questions of financial management and sustainability of heritage. Testifying to the importance of the management factor, especially as far as concerns the protection of historical cities, urban centres and cultural landscapes, there appears for the first time in a charter an item dedicated to the role of this area of responsibility in regard to both the economic optimisation of heritage and its protection from “new generation” risk factors. Under this heading there is not only pollution, property speculation and privatisation but also the difficult balance between the economic advantages and the cultural standardisation associated with the phenomena of cultural tourism. The challenge of the restoration project is, however, founded precisely on the idea of equilibrium: between use and protection, between development and conservation, between economy and control, realisable only on the basis of profound and multi-visioned understanding of the conservationary claims. In this multi-disciplinary approach lies perhaps the strength of the Cracow 2000 Charter of Restoration which, in extending the scope and the principles of preservation and restoration, has put at the service of the methodological clarity of the Venice Charter new conceptual instruments for the handing on of cultural heritage “in the full richness of its authenticity”.

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