ITALY: Heritage disaster fire at the Roman Villa, Faragola, Apulia

By Alessandro Vanzetti.

During the night between September 6th and 7th 2017, the mostly wooden structure protecting the Late Roman Villa at Faragola, Commune of Ascoli Satriano, province of Foggia, Apulia, Italy (41°13′41.76″ N, 15°33′35.47″ E) was destroyed by fire.

The devastation of the covering structure is total, and the technicians of the Italian Cultural Heritage Ministry (Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio) are at work in order to ascertain the damage to mosaics, painted and encrusted surfaces, and ancient structures.

Even if until now no proof of an intentional arson has been found, various elements make it likely, and the Police and Carabinieri are leading the investigations on-site. Some news report that some archaeological material could have been stolen during the fact (a votive disk – oscillum). The quantity of wood employed brought to a massive fire; as the structure should have been treated as fire-resistant, some first reports hypothesized the use of flammable materials to set the fire on.

Setting apart the hypotheses about which the investigating bodies will report soon, one can be worried by the sometimes problematic situation of Northern Apulia as for the Cultural Heritage protection. This is indeed one of the areas of Italy of persisting looting of archaeological sites and mostly cemeteries, and one of the most extraordinary Italian archaeological pieces recovered from the black illicit market, the complex of polychrome marbles with griffin figures and painted scenes (looted and stolen there in the 1970’s), is now exhibited precisely in the Museum of the Comune di Ascoli Satriano.

The Villa at Faragola was ready to undergo a further process of restoration and implementation of the visiting facilities, in order to improve its accessibility and the communication to visitors; financial support (1.600.000 €) was available and administrative acts had been completed.

The core point is that only careful monitoring and surveillance can help preventing such horrible disasters. Furthermore, should it be proved to be the outcome of an intentional attack, many different possibilities arise, from local contrasts against archaeology, to economic interests in the business of Heritage or buildings, to responses from criminal organized local mafia, to many other hypotheses.
We, as archaeologists, have to fight for the integrity of the Villa, and of the results of our research, which need to be shared and make publicly relevant to the local communities and to the wider public, in order to constitute the real Heritage of the world we share.
Therefore, let me express my deepest concern for the event, and warmest support to the archaeologists, restorers, technicians, Soprintendenza officers, administrators, and police forces, and finally my real hope that the Villa can be brought back to people’s education, study and enjoyment.
Sad, but firm,

Alessandro Vanzetti

some newspaper already notes an intentional destruction of the site by the Mafia.

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