Saturday, 2 May 2015

The last days of Stockholm

Similarly to many of the previous arrivals my last return trip to Stockholm of this current researcher contract coincided with some drama. The time the Swedish Mediterranean Institutes were in danger is probably such an unexpected series of events that it will be remembered for a long time – and not just by me. Sadly for me, this time around the drama that was unfolding was not something I observed, affecting other people, but sad, unexpected things happening within my own family. Nevertheless, the sheer enormity of the workload numbed the feelings of loss and the social media uploads and contacts from different family members kept me aware of the events.

The last eight and half working days presented a carefully timetabled flurry of things. There were two major grant applications to sort out, a report to finish, a tax return to log in, workshop material to be sent to the agreed open access journal, Archeologia e calcolatori, to name the most urgent matters with immediate deadlines looming. Luckily, there were also a few good research seminar presentations to hear and a pleasant postseminar in a Greek restaurant - after a talk I did not have time to listen, but even a stressed researcher has to eat... Everything was so intensive that there was little time to panic for the future or let any blue mood set in for long. The things were to be packed, the flat was to be cleaned on the last day and the table was emptied. Anyway, if the first day in the home office was any indication, at least momentarily the workload stays heavy. It also turned out that the last day at work may not have been such a thing. Frugality comes with silver linings apparently and the wolves have been sent packing at least for a couple of weeks.

Virginia Piombo presents Massimo Osanna

The most amazing coincidence was the fact that my last full working day before the Valborgsafton coincided with the talk of Massimo Osanna, the soprintendente of Pompeii. His presentation was the last in the series organised by the Italian Cultural Institute in Stockholm in collaboration with the Lund University and the Millesgården museum in Stockholm, celebrating the occasion of the Pompeii exhibition describing the Swedish Pompeii project. This was the last in the series and sadly the only one I could make. The other talks were at the times when I either was away or frantically finishing off one of the many grant applications. Luckily, much of the digital content had been presented in the CAA conference in Siena by Niccolò dell’Unto, so I had got peaks into the fantastic subject matter.

Professor Osanna stroke me as an energetic and driven man with a modern vision for Pompeii. His talk gave a quick summary of all the phases in the research history of Pompeii, from the 18th century tunnels around the theatre to the main ‘beef’ of the talk, Grande Progetto Pompei, the Great Pompeii Project. Professor Osanna referred to the two allied bombings in August 1943 as the defining moment, the reason for much of the collapses and structural instability in Pompeii. The after-war reconstructions are the ones that keep coming town and risk the survival of the original ruins as well. For the first time in Pompeii’s history the whole Pompeii is being mapped for decay and different structural phases. 105 million euros granted in 2012 allows the maintenance of the entirety of the existing standing structures, the remedies for hydrogeological problems and the systematic restoration work to be in the heart of a Pompeii project. No piecemeal, no half measures.

The plan is extensive and already in full swing. The different sections of the project – Conservation, Usage, Knowledge, Health & safety and Public visits – cover the whole site with 55 projects started and 95 entered into the tendering stage. Naturally, according to the EU regulations the work is divided into the subprojects that are given to different companies through open tendering process to allocate the contracts. Thus, the digitalisation of the photographic archives of Pompeii, to be uploaded to the internet in eight months, is carried out by six different companies. The work plan, specifications and regular visits from a dedicated Pompeii archaeologist keep different subprojects coherent and harmonised. Similarly, all Regios will be surveyed and all signs of decay and different repairs will be mapped on photographs. The whole site perimeter gets new fence, lighting and CCTV cameras, so that the regular night-time visits will cease. The unexcavated areas are cored for hydrogeological and engineering purposes, the Soprintendenza offices will be finally renovated (they have been in temporary barracks since 1980s) and new access routes are created. There will be a series of different thematic round tours so that the tourists will be channelled to different areas to even the erosion and Pompei per tutti will enable disabled access at least to a part of the site.

The plan for the disabled access

Since 2012 there have been 13 more archaeologists and 8 architects to carry out the work after the 2010 collapse of the Scuola Armaturarum. In addition, the internal commercial arm of the Culture Ministry has provided 13 new guards who could help to keep open newly restored houses or spaces where the governance could not allocate guards, not previously opened to the public. One is able to visit Casa del Poeta Tragico, Terme suburbane and 11 other properties in Pompeii. Similarly, the restoration of Casa dei Vettii has been restarted and there are plans for the New School of Pompeii, to teach different archaeological methods and disseminate knowledge after the model of Fiorelli’s original school that opened in 1866.

What is truly amazing that the old policy of restricting the use of Pompeii material online has ceased. The photographic archive will come online and information of Pompeii and different tourist routes are presented in an integrated manner in cross media. This new embrace of open access naturally has also something to do with the European conditions for research and other funding (we all are pencilling our respective open access publication plans), but it is such a positive move. I can only remember the times when a friend could not present online his 360 degree photographic panoramas of the Pompeii house he was working at, since the cost required by the Soprintendenza was beyond any independent researcher’s capability to pay. Probably now the panoramas can be presented – if the technology has not become redundant, yet. Likewise, now it will be much easier for the Expeditio Pompeiana Universitatis Helsingiensis to publish their final report.

As a cherry on the cake, there will be a new exhibition to present the earlier pre-War phases of Pompeii research and excavations. This exhibition will take place in Naples between the end of May and the beginning of November. As Professor said, now it is time to visit Pompeii. The organisers of the RAC, take a note where to direct the archaeological excursion of the conference in March 2016, if in anyway possible. It is the golden dawn the continuation of which is not guaranteed. This is a normal fixed-term project: the extra guards disappear after one year. The maintenance work will be incorporated into the normal running costs after 2017 unless there is new money. Can the finances allow any way near this level of activity in the future? Only time will tell, but I have personally followed the slow decay of the Millennium walkways and outdoor displays at Crustumerium when there was no money for maintenance and the weeds took over. Nevertheless, no one cannot say that soprintendente Osanna does not try to capture the moment and try to sort out the extra finances for guides and maintenance.

Massimo Osanna kindly allowed to use these photos in my blog. Truly practicing the openness that he is preaching.

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