A New Heritage can be born from a natural disaster. The project of a photographer who is exploring Central Italy with an idea tells it: to revive forgotten places

In the distance you notice something strange emerging from the hill, you enter the tangle of streets of a small town in the Marche region, turn the corner with the car and see a handful of fluorescent yellow beams that stand out against the front of a medieval church , dividing the facade into six equal portions, as if they followed a rhythm and a balanced aesthetic, all of their own.

In Central Italy hit by the earthquake it often happens to come across buildings shored up. At first it makes you sick to think of all the disfigured assets of our heritage, then, in the inexorable slowness of a time that seems to have crystallized in those villages, you begin to see a signal behind those interventions. It is the birth of a new gaze, of new questions that cross you.

What do those symbols of the territory keep? Who are they dedicated to? What social rites are they and will be witnesses of? Like the packaged giants of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, those passing villages are there to tell us something of their history and to make us think about their possible future. Something to listen to and understand to redesign their meaning and, at the same time, ours.

There are those who are treasuring this new landscape. The photographer Flavia Rossi,, with a degree in Architecture from La Sapienza in Rome and a master in Photography from the IUAV in Venice, is immortalizing the devastating effects of the 2016 earthquake that hit Central Italy on several occasions. Through the shots of the Nuovo Patrimonio (New Heritage) series, created with the collaboration of the architect Giulio Luccioni, he wants to restore dignity to the cultural and architectural heritage scattered in the lands where the Renaissance was born and is thinking of solutions to repopulate the territories and revive the heritage artistic that they contain. Rossi documents the consolidation interventions installed to support the damaged assets and, in his photos, he reads them as a new temporary landscape, a New Heritage, precisely, from the title of the project started in 2016 and still in progress, in which the temporary superstructures become elements of the architectures themselves.

“It is a paradoxical project with which I reflect on the concepts of temporary and permanent, because the temporary works have now become an integral part of these buildings, as if they were a whole, they will remain there for a long time, perhaps forever, due to the huge expenses planned for renovations”, tells Flavia Rossi, “I always try to have a lot of respect in telling them, both in the way I photograph and when I talk to the locals. I would not like these places to lose the dignity that I always have the pleasure of encountering”.

Villages that are becoming depopulated and buildings that will remain propped up in the heart of a symbolic territory of the country and far from tourism, which promotes great attractions. Churches, buildings and symbolic places of the community no longer identifiable, but in which the social life of the places, for now, is equally lived, with new rites. “The most touching episode I witnessed happened on the night of San Lorenzo, in Norcia, in 2018. To celebrate the saint, in front of the church of San Lorenzo, which is unusable, many arrived and had a party with a very long table, to be together with a sense of community and sharing that must not be lost”.

Also part of the Nuovo Patrimonio of Flavia Rossi is the new built, that is, those buildings that have been designed to welcome communities and commerce. Solutions born to be temporary, but which will most likely become permanent, such as the new Village for productive and economic activities in Castelluccio by Francesco Bellini, “where the earthquake has canceled almost everything ", says Rossi," a center that allows small producers and local traders to continue all those productive activities that were interrupted due to the devastating earthquake. A new building that will probably be permanent, even if it was designed as a temporary architecture”. 

Or like the multipurpose and civil protection center of Stefano Boeri Architetti, under Norcia, which was impounded by the Spoleto Public Prosecutor on the accusation of having been built in an area under landscape constraints. A controversy that fought precisely on the definitions of temporary and permanent, because the prosecution disputed the fact that the center had, by law, to be built as temporary, instead it seemed to be permanent. This was always denied by the studio, so much so that the architect was acquitted in the first instance.

A story, that of the Nuovo Patrimonio, which also tells of the works taken from inside the churches and saved in the Santo Chiodo warehouse in Spoleto, a structure managed by the Umbria Region and granted on loan for use to the Ministry of Culture. “Canvases, furnishings and objects from Umbria and Abruzzo following the seismic events of 1997 and 2016 which will have unknown future trajectories, are transformed into erratic objects, and which for the most part still lie packed”, says Rossi. For her, one of the solutions could be to put the material in the hands of the artists, to give a new course both to the works and to the territories that saw them born, that have preserved them throughout history, that have been the landscape that has welcomed them. the rites that have united the communities for centuries.

An idea that does not only involve conservation, but a project that looks far ahead. “It might be interesting for someone to organize an artistic residency plan, aimed at creating new works and using existing ones. And, once security is restored, think about the establishment of new museum centers for these works in the original places, to give life to a form of civil re-appropriation before the villages are completely emptied”.