Conservation Heritage Disasters Italy

Kazakhstan gives €1.7m to restore Baroque Italian building

The grant to the earthquake-damaged town of L’Aquila comes amid controversy over the deportation of dissident’s family

The 17th-century Oratory of San Giuseppe dei Minimi, one of the most impressive examples of Baroque architecture in the historic town of L’Aquila in central Italy

The restoration of the 17th-century Oratory of San Giuseppe dei Minimi, one of the most impressive examples of Baroque architecture in the historic town of L’Aquila in central Italy, has been completed thanks to a grant of €1.7m from the government of Kazakhstan.

The Oratory, which has opened again to the public, was one of hundreds of monuments and public buildings that were severely damaged during a 6.3-magnitude earthquake that all but destroyed L’Aquila in April 2009. The damage to the town’s cultural heritage and general infrastructure was so pronounced, and the government’s subsequent mismanagement of the crisis so conspicuous, that the town centre is still deserted and many restoration projects have yet to start.

Progress is slow because the culture ministry’s budget has suffered in the current economic climate, and it has focused its energies on more “mainstream” and tourist-friendly schemes, such as the EU-funded €105m “Great Pompeii Project”, designed to save the famous archaeological site from impending ruin. The ministry has so far provided €150m to restore L’Aquila’s heritage, but the sum is far below the estimated €525m needed.

In a show of solidarity, many foreign governments have also “adopted” a building or monument in L’Aquila: 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.

Despite the generous grant, Italian opposition leaders are questioning relations between Italy and the Central-Asian state after the wife and daughter of Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker and fugitive Kazakh dissident (who was granted political asylum by the UK in 2011), were deported back to Kazakhstan from Rome. According to the Financial Times, the Italian prime minister, justice minister and even the foreign minister were not informed of this until after the Italian authorities had handed the pair over to Kazakh diplomats.

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