Conservation issues of a monumental cemetery
In a monumental cemetery the majority of the sculptures are located outdoors (a few can be situated in chapels or under arches), so cemeteries, especially those that are monumental can be considered sculpture parks.
In particular, many European monumental cemeteries are evidence of the unequalled peaks of funerary sculpture dating back to the 19th and early 20th century.
In this work the attention is focused on the monumental cemetery ‘Foce’ in Sanremo, Ligury, Italy. This site is the centre of a study carried out by the author since January 2013.
The cemetery is located near the shore in the western part of Sanremo, and it was established in 1838. Now it counts over 2000 tombs, many of them dating back to Sanremo’s Belle Epoque (1880–1915). In that period the city became one of the most important tourist destinations of the international upper class, thanks to a climate advertised for the treatment of pulmonary diseases. At least one third of the graves are of foreigners, many of them having died of tuberculosis, a disease at the time was often considered equivalent to asthma but is actually totally incurable without penicillin. The site is also noticeable for its organization in which there are no marks strongly separating deceased of different religions and nationalities.
In the ‘Foce’ cemetery there is evidence of a fine local production and some works of national and international sculptors such as Jules Pierre Van Biesbroeck, Firmin Michelet, Wolf Von Hoyer, Pietro Canonica, Alberto Giacomasso, Alfeo Bedeschi and so on. Almost all of them have made funerary and commemorative artefacts around Europe and sometimes the world.
Unfortunately, this outstanding site is now in quite ruinous condition, for various reasons, the most important of them being the lack of heirs and the absence of a plan about weed control and conservation. Moreover it is undisputed that the coastal environment has a strong impact on the cultural heritage because of the specific composition of the atmosphere, which leads to different rates of degradation phenomena (e.g. metal artefacts are more damaged by a salty atmosphere rich in chlorides because they favour the creation of an electrolyte layer; metal surfaces are often wet and so more susceptible to alteration).
Although it is acknowledged that there is no ‘perfect recipe’ to stop forever a natural and inevitable phenomenon such as the degradation of the cultural heritage, strategies for slowing deterioration based on the techniques of preventive conservation and regular maintenance are widely recognized in academic debates. It is well established that the successful use of these techniques, notwithstanding the emergency restoration works that are sometimes employed, would be the most sustainable method for the conservation of the cultural heritage and this work is a further contribution to this thesis.
In the preliminary study grave materials and infesting plants have been mapped in order to facilitate the subsequent inspections and the design of the maintenance plans. Worth noting is the widespread presence of Cupressus canker, a fungal infection pervasive in the Mediterranean area.
It is evident that the site firstly needs emergency restoration, for which sustainable solutions are proposed; with the goal of never again reaching a critical situation such as the current, a maintenance plan is scheduled.
In order to best design maintenance activities, a series of visits or inspections are necessary. In the absence of specific anomalies and exceptional events (meteoric events, earthquakes, vandalism, etc.), inspections will always be done at a predetermined time frequency.
In a cemeterial framework, it is impossible to think of an item-based monitoring, since the compilation of reports would require too much time, and there would be a need for economic and skilled resources and expertise that would almost always not be able to be found (taking into account the vastness of the Italian cultural heritage, cemeterial and other, also in need of protection).
Moreover, too many reports would distract from the most important problems, such as degradation phenomena affecting more than one grave. So, this contribution presents an inspection form (technical schedule) structured in terms of areas.
The area of the Sanremo cemetery under consideration, of about 20,000 m2 and counting more than 2,000 tombs, has been divided into 47 monitoring areas.
The technical schedule has been designed in order to optimize the execution of the monitoring. It presents an orientation part and a part relating to the inspection itself. In the first part, items constituting the area under investigation are shown as list of codes together with a planimetric display (of course with indication of codes).
In the second part, a choice has been made on the alterations (lexicon ICOMOS or UNI EN 1182:2006) to be monitored; deterioration patterns that are more unstable or have a tendency to evolve more rapidly than others have been selected because these alterations are also those that generally require a timely intervention and/or could lead to a rescheduling of the maintenance plan.
The periodic inspection could be scheduled together with activities of minor maintenance entrusted to an optimized inspection team.
In this study the timetable of the maintenance activities have been also divided, depending on the difficulty, among different professions: janitor or gardener, skilled worker, restorer, specialized technician.
Very simple operations could be entrusted to the janitors, adequately trained with the intention that they should be active collaborators in the conservation of a site of great historical and artistic value.
Finally, some sustainable proposals have been outlined for optimizing the management and increasing the proper value being placed upon the site, a pearl of the city of Sanremo that by now is not getting the attention it deserves.