Green Archaeology

Landscapes, gardens, ruins


Integrating voids is a specific issue in restoration. A void may be more or less large, but generally not as much as to spoil both the structure and the image of architecture. The guidelines of any methodological approach to restoration are based on such principles as minimum intrusion, reversibility, authenticity-recognizability, which apply to all sectors and disciplines, including archaeology, architecture, the arts. In archaeology, the replacement of materials makes an exception and should be avoided altogether. In fact, matter – rather than form – makes the archaeological record. Only from the original materials can scholars infer the marks left behind by the past and interpret them, with a circumstantial approach, reasoning and modern analysis. History is written on matter, although the message needs to be decrypted. If the clues are not sufficient as yet, the day will come for others to succeed. Hence, while impaired, patchy, or wrecked, archaeological materials maintain their capacity of retrieving forms and stories long lost. Their value as antiquities remains prevalent and intangible. Therefore, the principle of authenticity-recognizability must rule over any reconstruction or anastylosis. The replacement or lining of masonry elements I have seen also in recent restorations in Italy, with the learned execution of opus reticulatum, opus mixtum, opus testacium with materials similar to the original stones or bricks, must be avoided. As a general rule, integrations should be restricted to what is necessary to guarantee stability; however, if the artistic value of a monument is prevalent – I am thinking of the Pantheon in Rome for instance –, wise and careful replacement can make sense for the sites that, thanks to recurrent restorations and reparations over time, have maintained continuity of usage and have remained “living monuments”.
These principles have been made crystal clear in the Charters of restoration, but they have been often forgotten or neglected, also in recent times. As a consequence, some massive reconstructions are now seen, which are largely equivocal because they use the same materials and forms as the ones that were lost because of time, human action or nature. One should not forget that destruction can be memory.
After the Acropolis in Athens was destroyed under the Persian siege, the Athenians vowed that its debris would be kept as memory of the traumatic defeat. Some time later, Pericles broke the oath and asked Ictinus and Callicrates to erect the new Parthenon. The Parthenon, the Erechteion and the Propylea are the result of that anathema, one only an ambitious and promising prince could undo. A different story is when the arsonist and fame-seeker Herostratus destroyed the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus; in that case, the monument was soon rebuilt equal to the original one, with its forest of columns, in the ancient obsolescent style, which became topical again thanks to the reconstruction. These two examples so distant in time can be certainly associated to some more recent events.

How far can the integration of image be pushed to? Can reconstruction be accepted?
The risk of loss because of wars or natural disasters is extremely high today. The memory is still excruciating of the destructions perpetrated in Palmyra in August 2015 and, before then, of the Buddhas of Bamiyan being blown up in 2001. Among other projects in Bamiyan, architect Andrea Bruno, already a consultant to UNESCO for several sites in Afghanistan and the Middle East, suggested not to reconstruct. On the contrary, the architect sought help from geologist Claudio Margottini to prevent the rock from crumbling down.
Here, the monks had dug a number of small cells near the two oversized niches that used to accommodate the statues of the Buddhas, one for the taller one, 57 metres high, and one for the smaller one, 38 metres high. Andrea Bruno had already worked in the restoration of the site back in 1964, when he executed the channelling and drainage of rainwater that infiltrated the rock, the static consolidation and removal of the rubble that concealed a portion of the monumental complex, and the restoration, where possible, of the statues themselves. In 2015, a virtual reconstruction of the Buddhas as holograms was completed by the Chinese couple Zhang Xinnyu and Liang Hong, who sponsored their laser projection.
On the other hand, I am little convinced by the recent proposals for the site of Palmyra, whose destroyed monuments are planned to be reconstructed as laser printed copies. Projections and virtual reconstructions may be a viable tourist attraction, a sensory experience helping to learn better, but they are only a performance, exactly like the light and sound effects – very captivating indeed – sometimes shown in archaeological sites, like in Luxor and, recently, in Pompeii.
An interesting solution lies in the work by Edoardo Tresoldi in Siponto, Puglia (Italy), who managed to resurrect the space of an early Christian church now in ruins with the help of self-bearing transparent wire mesh elements, 14 metres high, in an original match of archaeology and “air-drawn” contemporary art.
The restoration and rehabilitation of the Roman Theatre in Sagunto, Spain, by Giorgio Grassi and Manuel Portaceli (1993) met applause but also criticism to a much greater extent, especially after the completion of the works. As a matter of fact, the balance between reconstructed and original parts tilts to the great advantage of the new architecture, so that the remains of the ancient theatre are sacrificed and treated as a mere typological record, not as surviving archaeological materials.
A good example of reconstruction by anastylosis, including integrations and replicas, in a setting of high landscape value is the Canopus of Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli (Italy). Here, the fills of the 1950s were removed and the former pool rehabilitated, so that water now mirrors the columns with serliana arches and the replicas of sculptures. The reconstruction evokes the original complex built on the initiative of Emperor Hadrian, which included a triclinium for banquets down the channel and a Nilotic garden, reminiscent of the channel on the river Nile delta, hence the name of Canopus.
The topic I suggest here is exploring the potential of archaeological sites in the images of landscape and habitat painting, and namely that ruins are ideally suited to match the vegetation, lines and colours of landscape.
The myth of vestiges associated to nature is described in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Venice, 1499), in the dreamlike encounter of Poliphilo, the main character, with Polia, his lover, in the midst of ancient ruins lost in the wilderness.

“Among the broken and decayed places, wherof great sundrie wall weeds and hearbes, especially the unshaking Anagyre, the Lentisk of both kindes, bear’s foot, dog’s head, Gladen green, spotted Iuie, Centarie, and diverse suchlike. And in the myldered places of broken walls grew Howslike, and the hanging Cymbalaria bryers, and pricking brambles” (Francesco Colonna)

In the paintings by Bellini and especially by Mantegna from the late 15th century, antiquities are always seen wrecked, as their value originates from the aesthetic appreciation of the ruins themselves. The same applies to the drawings and paintings of vestiges of later times. The Dutch painter von Heemskerck (1498- 1574), after filling his notebooks with sketches of the vestiges of the Forum of Rome, portrays himself with the Colosseum setin a background invaded by vegetation (1553, Cambridge-Fitzwilliam-Museum). The landscapes of wrecked archaeology, either copied or imaginary, became a subject and a genre much sought after by collectors to decorate their estate houses. Also, the ruins themselves made an ideal setting for gardens and trails where peaceful walks could be enjoyed. Arcades and exedrae would be built to house statue collections, like in the 18th century residence of Cardinal Alessandro Albani in Rome, who appointed Winckelmann as curator of his collection. An unexpected while entirely realistic and documented image of the Colosseum colonized by vegetation is offered by some painters, like Abraham Louis Rodolphe Ducros between 1787 and 1793, and Rudolph Ritter von Alt in 1835.
In the early 19th century, the French architects who reached Rome in Napoleon’s wake imagined a large garden interspersed with isolated ruins and tree-lined boulevards on the site of the Forum (project Jardin du Capitol by Louis Berthault, 1813).

Giacomo Boni, the distinguished archaeologist who started the scientific investigations of the Roman Forum, strongly believed in the association of ruins and vegetation. In the early 20th century, at the end of the excavations carried out on the Palatine hill to bring theEmperors’ residences back to light, the archaeologist organized an Italian-style garden on the site, and planted cypresses and laurels along with some new species, like peonies and camellias. He wrote in his work Flora Palatina in 1912:

«My wish is to create a lush vegetation on the Palatine; I wish I can make people sense the educational influence generated by the loving care for plants, which some visitors seem to need urgently».
«The fur-like turf growing on a thin layer of humus on top of the ruins protects them against the scorching heat and frost, and creates a fabric of rootlets.
The top of walls, made of brick or concrete and therefore prone to crumbling under weathering action, can be protected against infiltration by a layer of cocciopesto, on top of which a mixture of soil and hay seed is laid to trigger the growth of a green carpet. To this end, the meadow-grasses, among the fibrous rooted gramineous plants, and Lippia repens, a gracious and draught-resistant plant from the verbena family, make an excellent solution».
«Let any trees with a fairly wide crown stay well away from the monuments; therefore, exclude the invasive false acacias and ailanthus trees, which can tear the masonry apart until it crumbles. All countries should strive to protect their monumental flora». (Giacomo Boni)

Ruins need to be maintained with care and love, not unlike a garden. Obviously, one has to distinguish between good and friendly plants, the ones with a limited growth, and evil weedsnot adapted for archaeological sites, which must be defended against invasive roots.
Giacomo Boni interpreted the adaptation of plants to the ruins according to a Romantic mood and to the educational function of caring for and respecting archaeological sites.
The site of Ninfa, in southern Lazio, Italy, dubbed “the Pompeii of the Middle Ages” by historian Gregovorius back in the 19th century, was resuscitated thanks to the reclamation and restoration of the wrecked stronghold carried out by Gelasio Caetani starting from 1921.
Under the supervision of his mother, the architect transformed the area into a lavish garden fed by water and planted some rare species. The richness and amenity of the site today is owed to its thriving diversity.

In the 1930s, Antonio Munoz made an experiment of reconstruction and integration of the Temple of Venus and Rome, an elevated site on top of a platform overlooking the Colosseum, by planting boxwood hedges in place of the ancient columns of the temple. Raffaele De Vico suggested to redesign the garden found on the Oppian Hill with the same layout as the Roman baths erected on top of the Domus Aurea. Corrado Ricci conceived the exedrae of pine trees now standing on both sides of Piazza Venezia, at the beginning of Via dei Monti and Via del Mare.
In the examples mentioned above, the symbiosis of greenery and archaeology offers the chance to provide a ‘romantic’, or otherwise architectural and evocative, setting for the ruins. By greenery I mean not only the plants, but the overall arrangement and decoration contributing to turning an archaeological site into an enjoyable park. Such vestiges as the Aqueducts to the south of Rome have never failed to inspire a feeling of melancholy and torment, not even when the neighbouring landscape has changed, as shown in some scenes of the movie Mamma Roma by Pierpaolo Pasolini (1962), where the construction of the new Tuscolano district is seen progressing in the background of the ruins.
Recently, the FAI – Fondo italiano per l’ambiente (Italian Environment Trust) rehabilitated the garden of Kolymbetra, an orchard rich in ancient citrus, fruit and centuries-old olive trees in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily. Back in Antiquity, the garden featured a fish pond fed by artificial canals. In this protected haven, where pure water springing from ancient underground caves is still used for irrigation today, the monks of a neighbouring abbey originally started a kitchen garden, which would grow into an orchard in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Sicilians still call “jardinu” (garden) what has become a popular tourist attraction after the irrigation system was repaired.
To conclude, I will speak about the project of an Amphitheatrum naturae – a green amphitheatre – I am currently developing in Milan. Few people know that Milan used to have an amphitheatre almost as large as the Colosseum. The city’s representation of its own past and vestiges has been distracted to the point that their enhancement has been largely neglected. The care, custody and maintenance of historic sites can find new design solutions in the symbiosis of ruins and greenery, with a landscapist, romantic, architectural approach respectful of the principles of conservation, authenticity, reversibility. While adding or integrating architectural elements is not a very convincing solution, greenery opens the way to creating overtly transient settings capable of improving the enjoyment and enjoyability of a landscape of archaeological ruins. Of course, some precautions must be taken; for instance, trees must be planted into buried vats to avoid contact and the risk of root infestation, and vestige-friendly species must be chosen, as maintained by Giacomo Boni.
I have mentioned above landscape painting, the experiences of Giacomo Boni in the Forum, of Antonio Munoz in the Temple of Venus and Rome and of Corrado Ricci for the pine tree exedrae of Piazza Venezia: all these are representative of the basics of an archaeological park, the union of nature and archaeology. Vegetation, terrain modelling and green furniture can be designed purposefully for archaeological sites.
In line with this idea, I suggested to create a viridarium to revive the archaeological park of the Roman amphitheatre of Milan. An unprecedented Amphitheatrum naturae of ancient topiary species (boxwood, myrtle, privet, cypress), the large elliptical garden replicating the shape of the missing amphitheatre will match and integrate the archaeological finds on site, that is, some stretches of the radial walls of the Roman monument.

The original Ceppo lombardo stones of the Roman amphitheatre were recycled to build the Basilica of San Lorenzo nearby and are now visible, as enhanced by Gino Chierici, inthe foundations of the church down the stairs leading to the chapel of Sant’Aquilino. The new Amphitheatrum naturae will be included in an itinerary linking the archaeological park, the standing columns nearby, San Lorenzo church and the park of the Basilicas. In the same area, a stretch of the medieval walls and of the banks of the waterways of Milan was brought back to light during the excavations for the subway. Some of the finds will become permanently displayed in the hall of the subway station.
The world’s awareness must be raised to the protection of highly vulnerable sites. To this purpose, during Expo 2015, the city of Milan hosted the States-General for Culture rallying the ministries of culture of over 80 countries worldwide, the representatives of UNESCOand of other international organizations, who were called to commit jointly to the protection of the world cultural heritage now endangered by natural disasters and wars.
The exchange of international experiences can help direct and support the protection of archaeological sites, with special care for such sites as Baalbek and Tyre in Lebanon, which make the object of the present mission and workshop named “Lebanon – Ws ITA” (Beirut, July 24th-28th, 2017), organized by ITA(Italian Institute for Foreign Trade) and Assorestauro (Italian Association for the Architectural, Artistic and Urban Restoration).

[by Antonella Ranaldi, Head of the Commission of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape of the metropolitan city of Milan]