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Transactions on the Built Environment vol 55, 2001 WIT Press, www.witpress.

com, ISSN 1743-3509

Documents in stone: at the interface of material

history and conservation

M. Bellomo & S. D'Agostino

Interdepartmental Centre of Engineering of Cultural Heritage, Universitj~
of Naples "Federico II", Italy

Our heritage of historical buildings is an archive of the material history of
construction and a documentary source for our knowledge of history in general.
These concepts force us to question the conservation strategy for our building
heritage. This paper proposes some guidelines for the conservation of the historic
heritage in line with the theoretical framework we have set out.

1 Monument as document
Taking as his starting-point the premises of historical culture, Jacques Le Goff
wrote: "the collective memory and its scientific version, history, can be applied
to two types of materials: documents and monuments",(Le Goff [l]). Yet already
during the 1 9 century
~ collections of documents came to be regarded as
"monuments". In the prevailing vision of history it becomes vital for the
conservation of our heritage to invert the tendency and focus on the monument
as document. A monument retains its value over the course of time above all for
its documentary significance, as a "document in stone". Thus our heritage of
historical buildings can be seen as an archive of the material history of
construction, but also, and indeed more importantly, as a documentary source for
our knowledge of history in general.
There is another reason for adopting this vision: the historical building heritage
is in fact now part of our archaeological heritage, because it is a product of a
construction culture which has been definitively superseded by the onset of a
technological culture, bringing radical innovations in the design, materials and
techniques of modern architecture, (Bellomo, D'Agostino [2]). These concepts
force us to question the conservation strategy for our building heritage: the
Transactions on the Built Environment vol 55, 2001 WIT Press,, ISSN 1743-3509

594 Structural Studies, Repairs and Maintenance of Historical Buildings

strategy must both safeguard its documentary value and ensure a sustainable,
dynamic mode of use. In this connection the dichotomy
archaeological/architectonic artefact becomes largely, if not entirely,
superfluous, for the conservation of both entities involves a series of common
requisites. Just as archaeologists carry out stratigraphical studies on the historical
building heritage, so many of the requisites governing conservation are seen, on
close scrutiny, to be very similar: from the identification of the degree of
vulnerability to problems of access and use, and of course the constant impact of
technological innovation. When considering, for example, problems of access
and use, attention is usually paid only to passive use for archaeological sites, in
the name of culture and tourism, and active use for those historical city centres
which are the pulsing nerve-centres of a metropolis. But on more careful
consideration, in methodological terms the conservation issues are the same: the
two million visitors who swarm over a restricted area of ancient Pompeii every
year produce the same sort of wear and tear in the ancient relics as the hordes of
tourists visiting Venice. Thus we can say that the two fundamental principles for
the conservation of the historical building heritage are static improvement and
programmed maintenance.

2 Identity and conservation of the historical centres in the

Mediterranean: the case of Naples
The historical centres of cities round the Mediterranean and throughout Europe
constitute tangible evidence of the great civilizations that flourished in this
geographical area. Their fabric gives form to the emblematic marks of different
cultures and contains the cornerstones of European and Middle Eastern
civilizations. Each has its own character which permeates the site, determines its
appearance and lends it a unique atmosphere. In order to present these
considerations in a more tangible form we will outline the exemplary
stratification of the historical centre of Naples.
The historical centre of Naples is unique in having conserved intact the urban
layout of the Greek city, and has been inhabited without interruption since the 5"
century BC. This extraordinary urban complex has undergone some two and a
half thousand years of stratification, developing from the Roman city, of which
any number of relics are still apparent, to the edifices put up in the early Middle
Ages, and the monuments of first the Norman and then the Angevin dynasty,
above all Caste1 Nuovo, which received a splendid Renaissance facelift thanks to
the inspired munificence of Alfonso d'Aragona. The medieval and Renaissance
city, delimited by the Aragonese walls, expanded outwards during the 16" and
17' centuries under Spanish rule. This more extensive historical centre was
refashioned in turn by the Bourbons, intent on making Naples one of the leading
capitals in Europe. From the second half of the 19" century the city's status
became bound up with the new Italian nation, but urban development continued,
with quality building work going on into the first decades of the 20'%entury. It
was the rebuilding work following the Second World War that devastated the
city, its delightful surrounding hillsides being swamped with cement, which went
Transactions on the Built Environment vol 55, 2001 WIT Press,, ISSN 1743-3509

on to engulf the suburbs with anonymous estates. All this had nothing in
common with the traditions of building in the city.
It is in fact this dichotomy between the historical building and the new
installations that brings out the archaeological nature of the historical heritage.
This nature has to be recognised and respected in structural matters, but at the
same time it must allow for the access and use which cannot be denied for a city
centre, however "hlstorical". This is the essential condition for the conservation
of historical city centres, going hand in hand with their socio-economic
development, and the challenge which faces them over the next few decades.

3 Conservation work in the ancient city of Pompeii since the

eighteenth century
The ancient city of Pompeii is a classic case of a composite archaeological area
and it is a living laboratory in which to gain comprehensive experience in
archaeological restoration.
The city streets, of varying width, have high pavements. The houses sometimes
had one upper floor, rarely two, with on the ground floor the main rooms used by
the householder, including the reception rooms for his callers. The heart of city
life was the Forum, with a double portico running round the four sides, while
round it stood public buildings, theatres, baths, barracks, palaestrae and a large
amphitheatre, which still give us a strong feeling of a significant urban centre
from Roman times. In 79 AD this all succumbed to a violent volcanic eruption
preceded by earthquakes, bradyseism and poisonous exhalations, and the city
was obliterated by fire and a deluge of ashes and volcanic debris. The material
history of the ancient city mirrors its volcano. The soft tufas, blocks of lava and
precious pozzolana (volcanic cement powder) were both the city's bedrock and
the building materials used in its construction. The materials were completed by
bricks and tiles in stonework or marble, the latter being used almost exclusively
for decoration.
It was not until the middle of the 18" century that the ancient city began to be
rediscovered. At first excavators were only interested in bringing out works of
art, but gradually people began to take an interest in the city's architectonic
features and static interventions were undertaken to restore walls and ceilings so
as to preserve the site in its original aspect. The materials and techniques used
were the same as those used in ancient times. In the second half of the 19"
century archaeological research and the approach to conservation took a
considerable step forward in the direction of the modern scientific disciplines.
T h s saw the beginning, on the part of the organizations responsible for
safeguarding the archaeological heritage, of a stratigraphic methodology for
excavating and systematic investigations which freed archaeology of its
antiquarian residues and allowed the archaeolgical relic to be viewed as a
historical document. Attention was now focused on studying the construction
organism, the materials and the building techniques used, accompanied by
minimal interventions to ensure the material integrity of the relic. This
restoration culture prevailed up to the middle of the 20' century, although it
Transactions on the Built Environment vol 55, 2001 WIT Press,, ISSN 1743-3509

596 Structural Studies, Repairs and Maintenance of Historical Buildings

be an to lose its hold as new materials became available. The first half of the
20 century saw a revolution: the conception of building changed completely as
new materials entered into common use. At Pompeii various restoration projects
were carried out using reinforced concrete, particularly in repair work on
buildings which suffered war damage.
Finally, the conservation of the ancient city was significantly affected by
structural interventions following the 1980 earthquake, when it was classified as
a seismic zone, albeit of reduced intensity. This led to widespread
cementification and reinforced bracing, definitively disrupting the ancient
building conception. Many signs give hope that here too we have rediscovered a
"middle way" able to pay close attention to both past interventions and the
proposals of technological innovation that ensures respect for the material
document rather than its disruption (D'Agostino [3]).

4 Conclusions
Once the archaeological status of historical buildings has been established, every
effort must be made to spread the culture of documentation, setting up effective
and accessible data banks which can constitute an archive of material history for
all surviving historical centres. These centres must continue to be inhabited,
which means encouraging the network of commerce and handicrafts on which
they have always thrived and restricting the presence of offices and public
services which all too often smother day-to day life. At the same time,
pedestrianised areas should be extended and well connected with other parts of
the town or city. If these priorities are linked with social monitoring throughout
the territory, avoiding the terrible urban decay that has characterised so many
inner cities, then conservation should be successful. Here too it is a question of
ongoing and programmed maintenance which will obviate both occasional
restoration projects and, above all, those wholesale interventions which go under
the name of "urban upgrading". The strategy of conservation outlined above
envisages an interdisciplinary and intersocial project with the participation of
archaeology and architecture, engineering with all its multiple competences, and
social and commercial interlocutors. It is based on a series of criteria: the
material history of each construction must be identified, documenting the
succession of transformations it has undergone, and a complete survey drawn up,
backed up by comprehensive photographic documentation; the architectonic
conception which informed its construction must be identified, tracing its
evolution in the course of time if appropriate, and matching it to the history of
architecture and the socio-political developments which influenced its evolution.
Particular attention must be paid to its relationship with the urban context in
which it is set; the original construction conception must be established,
identifying the rules of the builder's art, the materials, techniques and state of
conservation, analysing the state of decay and achieving a complete geotechnical
and structural knowledge of the construction, using non-destructive assays if
necessary. The fundamental criterion for static restoration is "improvement"
using materials and techniques which match the original ones. Any
Transactions on the Built Environment vol 55, 2001 WIT Press,, ISSN 1743-3509

improvements to the foundations must be carried out in conformity with the

existing foundations and on the basis of stratigraphical excavations; care must be
taken that systems of technological services, while obviously indispensable,
cause no damage to the ancient construction and do not alter its conformation;
this is the touchstone for all technological innovation; the access and use of an
ancient building must respect its conformation and the construction and material
conception which informed it; each ancient building must have its own
programmed maintenance schedule which obviates non-routine interventions; in
addition to the programmed maintenance schedule, there must be a schedule for
managing the building which ensures that the maintenance is carried out.

[ l ] Le Goff J., Documento-Monumento. Enciclopedia Einaudi Vol V, G. Einaudi
Ed., 1978
[2] Bellomo M,, D'Agostino S., Ingegneria strutturale e costruito storico come
costruito archeologico, Proc. 4th Inter. Symp. on the Conservation of
Monuments in the Mediterranean, National Technical University, Atene,
483-494 pp, 1997.
[3] D'Agostino S., La reintegrazione nel restauro dell'antico: conservazione
strutturale tra tradizione costruttiva e innovazione tecnologica. Proc. Study
Symposium, ARCO, Paestum, Gangemi 23-32 pp, 1997.