Archaeology Odyssey 6:2, March/April 2003

Field Notes

By Doug AlexanderJudith Harris

Archaeology Odyssey

New Italian Law Looks to Free Market

The immensity of Italy’s cultural heritage is matched only by the burden of caring for it. The latest strategy: putting the market to use.

In June 2002 the Italian parliament passed a law permitting private citizens to acquire bits and pieces of Italy’s cultural heritage deemed of “no particular artistic value.” Two new corporate entities set up by the economic ministry, Patrimonio dello Stato SpA and Infrastrutture SpA, will manage sales.

The new law also calls for an inventory of Italian cultural holdings, from Bronze Age archaeological sites and military barracks built in the l870s to beaches leased to private citizens. This will be the first official census of Italy’s artistic and historical heritage.

“We won’t sell the Colosseum,” said one heritage ministry official, “but we do need to know what we own and can manage better, or turn over to others to manage.” In a statement that one acerbic critic called “an admission of defeat,” heritage minister Giuliano Urbani said that private concerns may be able to maintain Italy’s cultural heritage “better than the government can.”

In Italy, these are fighting words. In 1894 the young state (formed only in 1870) hired a private contractor, Vincenzo De Prisco, to excavate an ancient wine estate at Boscoreale, which, like Pompeii, was buried in the 79 A.D. eruption of Mount Vesuvius. De Prisco sold most of his finds—splendidly wrought silver cups, vases and a pitcher—to the Rothschild banking family, which resold it to the Louvre, where it is today.

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.