Following the earthquakes that struck the region of Emilia in northern Italy, notably since May 20, the UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova dispatched an urgent technical mission with the objective of assessing the overall situation at the affected World Heritage properties. The mission also aimed to evaluate the current risks related to the evolution of the seismic phenomenon and collect information on the strategy put in place by the competent Italian authorities to mitigate these risks and plan for recovery.
The mission, which took place on 7 and 8 June 2012, visited the three World Heritage properties affected by the earthquake, i.e. 1) Mantua and Sabbioneta; 2) the Cathedral, Torre Civica and Piazza Grande, Modena; and 3) Ferrara, City of the Renaissance, and its Po Delta. The overall situation at the three World Heritage Properties, as concerns the state of the cultural heritage, is serious and characterized by widespread damage, although for the time being not catastrophic. In most of the historic buildings observed, the earthquake caused the opening of cracks, often along previous ones that had been repaired in the past, and the fall of small parts of plasters and stucco decorations (e.g. in the Cathedral of Modena, or Palazzo Ducale in Mantua). In the most worrying cases, whole structural elements seemed to have moved (Rocca Stellata, near Ferrara, or Palazzo della Ragione in Mantua) with possible risks for their overall stability. Small architectural parts on the top of the tallest buildings (i.e. turrets, skylights, tiles) have fallen off in some cases, or are threatening to fall, with risks for the underlying buildings (as at the Church of Santa Barbara, within the Palazzo Ducale of Mantua or at the ancient Ariostea Library, in Ferrara). As a result of the above, hundreds of public buildings, heritage properties and museums have been closed to the public, pending verification of their structural soundness.
The residential building stock seems to have resisted better, overall, but the situation must be checked on a case by case basis and the mission understood that thousands of homeowners – particularly in Ferrara – have requested that their property be technically assessed for stability. The complex water management system of the Po Delta, near Ferrara, has been partially disrupted, with damage to some historic buildings, pumps, small embankments, and bridges affected. All of this damage, which is still being assessed, may prevent water from irrigating the fields, in case of drought, or cause floods during the rainy season.
Competent authorities at all levels are doing their utmost, working around the clock in difficult conditions, to assess the damage and carry out emergency interventions. These have included localized propping, reinforcement rings of towers and the removal and storage in safe premises of items at risk from buildings, such as paintings or statues. The sheer number of the buildings and sites to control, however, is posing a real challenge, especially considering the risk of new seismic events. Operations are being conducted by the various authorities in close consultation with the Municipal authorities and the Civil Defense Department (Protezione Civile).
A brief report on the situation will be presented at the forthcoming session of the World Heritage Committee (St. Petersburg, 24 June-6 July 2012).