Earthquake in Italy: Cultural cost high as historic region is reduced to rubble

Many artistic treasures feared lost as Amatrice town clock freezes at 3.36am

Art experts fear that serious earthquake damage to numerous historic buildings and their contents is inevitable in a region where almost every town and village has beautiful churches and monuments.

Dutch classicist David Rijser said there had been damage to the Abruzzo region's many churches, monuments and museums. "It has been a true drama; there is a lot that has been lost," he told Dutch radio.

Some of the greatest destruction was in Amatrice, which was last year voted one of Italy's most beautiful towns, celebrated for its Cento Chiese, 100 churches filled with frescoes, mosaics and sculptures. Half the facade of the 15th-century church of Sant'Agostino has collapsed, taking with it the beautiful rose window. The courtyard of one of the town's Renaissance palaces has been turned into a temporary morgue.

The town clock in the 16th-century bell tower is frozen at 3.36am, the moment the earthquake struck. "Half the town no longer exists," said its mayor, Sergio Piorizzi.


The mayor of l’Aquila, a town where 300 people died in the 2009 earthquake, has promised to take in hundreds left homeless in Amatrice.

In Pescara del Tronto the clock tower is the tallest structure amid the rubble of collapsed buildings in the historic core of the hilltop village.

Many historic buildings are also reported lost or damaged in Norcia, the birthplace of St Benedict. The 12th-century basilica, which is said to have been built on the foundations of his house, had been damaged, Fr Benedict Nivakoff told the Catholic News Service, although all the monks were safe.

Others at risk include a museum housed in a medieval fort, 14th-century frescoes in the church of St Augustine, as well as the Roman walls, survivors of many earthquakes, which still partly encircle the town.

Further damage is feared to buildings still under repair after the 2009 earthquake, including the beautiful 13th-century church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, the burial place of Pope Celestine V, which was still closed for restoration work on the collapsed cupola and arches. There are now fears for the church’s spectacular facade, with its delicate rose windows and alternating blocks of pink and white stone.

One of the most spectacular casualties of the 1997 earthquake, the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, with its magnificent frescoes by Giotto and Cimabue, was reported safe this time.

Cracks were reported in buildings as far from the epicentre as Rome, including in the spectacular baths of Caracalla.

The Italian culture ministry said that while saving lives and helping the homeless had to be the priority in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, there would be a meeting on Thursday to assess the scale of cultural damage.

– Guardian service