Italy's vulnerable beauty lacks funds and attention against earthquakes

Mon Aug 29, 2016 6:54am EDT
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By Giulia Segreti

ROME (Reuters) - The basilica of Saint Benedict in the medieval town of Norcia swayed but held up last week when a 6.2 magnitude earthquake rocked mountainous central Italy.

Just 24 km (15 miles) away in Amatrice, which used to bill itself as the town of 100 churches, the historic center was flattened and not a single holy place escaped undamaged.

The fact that a town in the main quake zone was largely unscathed while others have been crushed might have a lot to do with the vagaries of seismic shocks, which can bring disproportionate damage depending on land formation.

But it might also be because picture-postcard Norcia has consistently invested in anti-seismic protection for its ancient buildings, while its less famous neighbors have not.

Norcia represents the exception, not the rule in Italy, where the majority of buildings were constructed more than a century ago, well before anti-seismic norms were introduced. The question is whether the heavily indebted country has the will and the money to safeguard all its homes and cultural treasures.

Italy is home to more UNESCO world heritage sites than any other nation, with architectural and artistic masterpieces ranging from Greek and Roman remains to the frescoes of the late Mediaeval painter Giotto and residences or "palazzi" of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

But it is also an active seismic zone, experiencing 36 earthquakes with a magnitude of 5 and above since 1900. Almost every one has brought death and destruction, with nearly 300 people dying in the latest disaster.

Such tragedies inevitably trigger rounds of recriminations about why successive governments haven't done more to defend Italians' lives and heritage.   Continued...

The town hall is seen in Norcia, central Italy, August 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Crispian Balmer