During AUR’s spring break 2019, Sustainable Cultural Heritage students were immersed in an intensive week of learning about conservation planning. The course included both lectures and on-location demonstrations of how cultural site managers perform conservation.

First, students enjoyed a trip to Villa dei Quintilii where they were provided the opportunity to meet Alessandro Lugari, conservation manager of the site for 15 years. Lugari’s passion for the site was evident as he guided the class around the property. The villa was originally constructed by the Quintilii brothers in 151 A.D. Emperor Commodus then took over the property and enlarged it to enjoy a peaceful lifestyle outside of Rome yet still be well-connected due to its location on the Appian Way.

A highlight of the property are the thermal baths which have ancient marble and mosaic floors that can still be viewed. Lugari described from where the marble had been sourced and the different mosaic techniques that can be seen. Students were able to see conservation in action since conservators were on site undertaking maintenance of the floors. Lugari showed students how different sections of mosaics are covered by waterproof fabric to protect them from weather. This coincided with the lecture the class had on sheltering versus reburial of archaeology sites.

Second, a daylong fieldtrip to Ancient Monterano allowed students to be able to practice conservation documentation techniques at a site. The abandoned city of Monterano is now part of a nature reserve that includes hiking, biking, and riding trails. After a relaxing hike past Etruscan sites, a stream colored red by iron, Sulphur pits, and hot springs, the students arrived at the ruins of the city.

Monterano was once a flourishing town that included a castle, three churches, and even had an urban makeover by Bernini during the Baroque period. Less than 200 years later, the city was abandoned due to a scourge of malaria and finally its destruction by Napoleon’s troops. Now, all that remains are the outside walls and foundations of the buildings that made up the town. Students surveyed the property and made an inventory of the condition of the remaining structures. From these notes, students will develop their own individual conservation management plan for the site.

Finally, students were able to put conservation methods into practice and learned how to make mosaics according to ancient techniques and materials. Not only were students able to take a break from the classroom and use their creative side, but they also saw the practical work that goes into conservation. Betty Gillespie, graduate student in the M.A. in Sustainable Cultural Heritage program enjoyed working on the creative project. She says, “It was nice to be able to utilize a technique learned in class firsthand.”
After completing the mosaics, students had the opportunity to visit Studio Cassio which is a traditional mosaic workshop. Roberto Cassio described the mosaic methods used by the Vatican to restore the paintings inside St. Peter’s Basilica. He also demonstrated how glass mosaic tesserae can be heated up and stretched to form many different sizes and shapes, a technique invented in Rome in the 18th century.

Sustainable Conservation is part of the core curriculum for the M.A. in Sustainable Cultural Heritage. It is taught by Francesca Guiducci, who has worked conservation at sites in Turkey, Turkmenistan and Sudan. 

Author: Kristin Lochner