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Assisi provides lessons for protecting historic buildings

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Innovative ideas about protecting historic buildings at risk from earthquake damage have been promoted at a conference organised by the Italian Ministry of Culture and the European Commission.

The conference was staged at Assisi, one year after five earthquakes measuring from 4.1 to 5.8 on the Richter scale struck the Italian regions of Marche and Umbria, damaging the town's famous Basilica of St Francis, particularly the frescoes by Cimabue and Giotto.

Thirty experts discussed the frescoes' damage and restoration, as well as measures to protect such cultural heritage from the effects of future earthquakes, environmental degradation and mass tourism, a particular problem in popular destinations such as Assisi.

Many of the ideas are to be included in a manual to be issued worldwide by the end of 1999, offering advice on how to protect historic buildings from seismic activity. Carlo Avetta, an Italian architect currently working for the European Commission, said that the ideas focused on practice developed at Assisi since the earthquake, which has been funded by the Italian government and the eu's Raphael programme. For the structure of the building, it has proved possible to 'rebuild the framework with original materials together with new materials of the same kind as the old', while a computer scanner has been employed to help restore the frescoes.

Avetta said he hoped that the process would enable the restoration of '80 per cent of the regions' damaged frescoes'. The basilica itself is expected to reopen by 2000.

Research into the protection of Europe's cultural heritage will be substantially increased in the eu's forthcoming £16 billion Fifth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development.

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