Showing posts with label Susan Douglas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Susan Douglas. Show all posts

August 8, 2014

Cultural Heritage Protection: The Ġgantija Temples, Xhagra, Malta (Gozo)

Susan Douglas reports on the Ġgantija Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980

Fig. 1: The entrance to the museum at
 the Ġgantija Temples heritage site.
Possibly the oldest surviving freestanding structures in the world, the Ġgantija Temples in XaghraGozo, Malta were inscribed by UNESCO in 1980 with several other Megalithic Temple Sites on the Maltese archipelago. Dating from the Neolithic period onwards, perhaps as early as c.3600-3200 BC (Trump 1980; Renwick 2007), they predate both Stonehenge (c.2000 BC) and the pyramids at Giza (c.2500BC).

Fig. 2 – The clay figurines including
 the snail with the human head
 from the
 Xaghra Circle.
The architecture of temple site of Ġgantija is not a simple trefoil plan like the earliest structures seen at MnajdraSkorbaTarxien and Kordin, or a single cell such as found at Mgarr, but a rather more developed plan consisting of a passage with a pair of transepts branching off it to either side. The temples and related sites (such as the Hal Safleini Hypogeum) all share elements in common such as uprights and lintels and decorative spiral, dot, and line designs. These well-known features are present at Ġgantija, where the designs are carved into the standing stones or megaliths.

Interpretation Center and Museum
When I visited the Ġgantija Temples it was scorching hot. July is the worst time to tramp around the Mediterranean doing cultural tourism, but somehow I didn’t know this before I arrived on the island. Also, I had no car. Which is how, with help from the Hop-on-and-Off bus, Gozo, I spent a leisurely 45 minutes enjoying the heritage park, comprising a museum and the temples.

A short uphill walk took me from the car and coach park opposite to where the bus stops to the entrance of the complex. Happily, the museum area is air-conditioned during the summer months. I found out there is a dress code in effect when the woman ahead of me in line was politely asked to put on a T-shirt. Only after she’d done so was the party (which now include me) allowed to enter the museum. The museum / interpretation center, like the prehistoric site itself, is managed by Heritage Malta, the national agency responsible for the preservation and conservation of archeological sites, historic buildings and all Gozo museums.

As fig. 1 (above) illustrates, from outside the museum somewhat resembles a concrete bunker, but one articulated by perforated metal screens that allow the light in and is designed to protect what’s inside. The design of the museum and the entire architectural project carried out at the Ġgantija Temples heritage site won the 2014 Din l-ArtĦelwa Prix d’Honneur in recognition of its excellence. One of the project’s key features is that the museum is detached, physically and visually, from the temple site itself so that visitors may enjoy the monument in its natural context. [1]

Fig. 3 – Graffiti on the megalithic stones
 at the
 Ġgantija Temples, Gozo.
The interpretation center was inaugurated in 2013. It is given over to promoting conservation and educating the public as to the historical and aesthetic value of the temples as well as making learning about Gozo’s prehistory and our prehistoric ancestors an entertaining experience. The exhibits inside include narratives that relate the archeological remains found at Xaghra to the Maltese nation as well as displays encouraging the public to identify with the cultural past.

Sleeping Lady
I was fascinated to discover figurines similar to the “sleeping lady” on display at the National Museum of Archeology in Valletta, Malta, along with other material found in the Xaghra Circle (fig.2). It turns out that figurines and statues were found at several temple sites and the Hypogeum. They range in size from over-life size to miniature and may confirm that the temples were sites for the worship of deities. Some clay figurines and a clay representation of a snail with a human head caught my eye my along with stylized human heads and animal figurines carved in limestone.

According to Sarah Rich, interest in the sculptures is connected to the Earth mother/ Great goddess cult in New Age religions making them emblematic of the desire for an “imagined” heritage or myths. Some of the figures are evidently female in form while others are androgynous, abstract or anthropomorphic. Rich argues that worship by Neolithic people of the female body or the goddess mother in the Maltese islands has never been conclusively proved. [2]

Fig. 4 – The path leading around Ġgantija allows access to
 two  temples  that stand at the end of the Xagħra plateau.
This is a partial view of the façade.
But can we talk about tactile memory in this context? The little figures movingly symbolize for me an affective connection across time. They obviously communicate on a human level, that is to say intimately and expressively, by virtue of texture, color and shape. And, there are plenty of examples of rounded smooth surfaces inviting touch in art, from the Blarney Stones in Ireland to the right breast of the bronze statute of Juliet in Verona that brings luck in love to those who touch it. [3]

Apart from the story of the relics, the museum has other tales to offer. In the modern period interest in archaeology led to a confusing situation. It is a fact that, by circulating illustrations of the temples from various points of view, European aristocrats and others succeeded in stimulating scientific interest in the temples and brought tourists into the area. I sat down to watch a video relating how watercolor paintings give an impression of what tourism looked like in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and to prove that the decorative elements of the temples existed and what they looked like. It is believed that decorative plaster may have once covered the irregular walls at Ġgantija. For a while it may have been accessible to the public. However, in 1827, “rubble” was systematically removed from the site in an effort to control access to the area and this material is now irretrievably lost.

Fig. 5 – Detail of the temple structure (niches) compared
 to earlier artistic renderings through photographs.
Figure 3 shows a different consequence of tourism as an unconsidered process. In the park, the names, initials, dates and emblems inscribed on the surfaces of the megaliths are an indication of the site’s growing popularity during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The act of leaving one’s name on the prehistoric monument once confirmed that one had indeed been at the site. Any act of vandalism today would likely be caught by security cameras and dealt with immediately; the security guard I saw patrolling the grounds was alert, as he should be. [4]

The Temples, Gozo
There is plenty to look at in the heritage park: the rugged landscape, the bounded temple complex, architectural details ancient and modern. But today, instead of clambering over the ruins as the visiting public once did, a raised path leads down to the temples, offering panoramic vistas of the countryside in the process. The ground is high and slopes downwards. At one time these temples may have prominently marked territorial division or been the central feature of a settlement -- a place that Christians churches, usually Catholic, have taken up more recently. Here are some pictures:

Fig. 6 – Detail of a chamber in one of the
 clover-leaf shaped temples showing
 the site restored according to evidence
 found  during archeological digs
 in 1827 and subsequently.
The path winds around the outside protective wall until reaches the megalithic monuments where it leads up each of two transepts (fig. 4). 

Text and visual panels relay information as to the efforts being made to preserve the Ġgantija Temples and Gozian culture for future generations (fig. 5).

The overall outline of the ground plan has survived, and the upright megaliths. Walls, blocks of stone, niches, and the original stone paving are notably restored. Sadly, however, most of the stylized ornamentation on the megaliths is today very faded. This makes it difficult to imagine what the temples originally looked like or what they did, and therefore how past societies were integrated into the design, culturally and socially.

Mute Monuments
How did the Ġgantija Temples perform the sacred in their time? How does the museum complex perform cultural heritage today? We speak of architecture as active agent in shaping the world. We see the built environment as acting on the beholder and hence capable of transforming perceived reality. But usually, these rather abstract ideas aren’t grounded in a reality such as this one, grandiose yet mute.

[1] For more, see AndSeg, Communications Office at Ggantija Megalithic Temples, response to “horrendously ugly concrete walls surround the site,” published on Accessed July 28, 2014.

[2] S. Rich, “Ggantija and ta’MarzienaPreservation and presentation of Gozo’s Neolithic Heritage,” 2007, Omertaa, Journal for Applied Anthropology,

[3] Interestingly, the curators in charge of exhibiting similar objects at the National Museum of Archeology in Valletta have put a replica on display near the sleeping lady so visitors may in fact touch it if they choose to.

[4] For more on world heritage site management in Malta, see Esther Renwick, “World Heritage Site Management: protecting a site in its landscape, a Maltese case-study” (Paper Presented at the Forum UNESCO University and Heritage 10th International Seminar) available at Accessed August 5, 2014

Photo credits, all images: © Susan Douglas, 2014

Dr. Susan Douglas, professor at the University of Guelph (Canada) and the ARCA Writer-in-Residence in 2013, is a writer and curator in Toronto and the founding editor of the Glossary of Modern Latin American Art (Wordpress). Http://

July 24, 2014

FORTE CESARE: lost, forgotten and hopefully found?

Forte Cesare, 2013 (Photo by C. Sezgin)
by Luca Antonini, ARCA graduate and resident of Amelia, Italy

Italy is famous all over the world for its rich and varied material heritage, some of it well-preserved as historical sites of interest or kept safe in rich museums located all over the country; other parts of it sadly neglected.

The abundance of historical, artistic and architectonic elements has always posed a problem of conservation, and there are additional issues such as limited resources and governance. At the municipal level, a lack of clear and enforceable guidelines often contributes to the problem, ambiguity leading to art crimes such as theft, vandalism or destruction brought about by natural events such as floods or earthquakes.

Forte Cesare had always been in private hands until the beginning of the 20th century, when it was added to the assets of the Municipality of Amelia. Recently, the Municipality sold Forte Cesare to a private company with plans to restore and use it.

Forte Cesare is the name given to a group of ancient buildings located on the top of a strategic hill dominating all the territories around it in the center of Umbria, the green heart of Italy. Administratively, the site belongs to the Municipality of Montecastrilli, province of Terni, which is 30 km east of Orvieto, 20 km south of Todi, 12 km north of Amelia and 85 km north of Rome.

Forte Cesare, 2013 (Photo by C. Sezgin)
The site was probably inhabited by the Romans, but the basements of the buildings we see today date back to the VI – VII century AD, when a fortified garrison was established along the path of the Via Amerina, the most important road of the Byzantine Corridor.

One century after the end of the Roman Empire, Ravenna became the capital of the Byzanthine Exarchate (a sort of province of Constantinople's Eastern Roman Empire) which included Rome.  The rest of Italy was invaded by different national groups coming from the north of Europe.

The only safe link between Rome and Ravenna was a little strip of land surrounded by territories occupied by the Lombards, with Tuscany to the west and Spoleto and Marche to the east; it was extended from Via Cassia, a few kilometers north of Rome, and reached Via Flaminia, a few kilometers south of Ravenna. Byzantine Corridor was the name given to the strip, and the road was called Via Amerina, touching the towns of Orte, Amelia, Todi and Perugia. At that time Forte Cesare was a fortified site with soldiers protecting people and goods traveling on both directions, but it was also a station to have a rest, change horses, and stop for the night.

Later on this area became part of Terre Arnolfe (lands under the control of the Archbishop of Spoleto, 10th – 11th century), but no official documents survive until the beginning of the 16th century, when it was sold by the Stefanucci family to the Atti family, a strong Guelph family ruling in Viterbo and originally from Todi.

Between the 16th and 17th centuries, Forte Cesare was radically transformed from a military to a residential complex. Only the tower remained in its original dominant position, while all the other fortified parts were reunited in the new three-story villa.

Until that time, we find the toponym indicated as "Peroccolo", particularly on some maps made in the Vatican in the 19th century but stating the situation in the 13th century. The first time we find it named in relation to a “Cesare” in an official document is on a 1629 map; it probably comes from Cesare Borgia, a leader supporting the Roman Church in the wars between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines in the 15th century, who probably used the place during his military campaigns. This is one of the most credible hypotheses about the origin of the name we still use today.

At the end of the eighteenth century, Forte Cesare was donated by the Bishop Franceso Atti to Propaganda Fide, an organization created by the Pope to support the missionaries’ activities and some “related” ventures, including real estate management. Propaganda Fide immediately rented it out to the Verchiani family, and few years later (1808) sold it to Ciatti family. Angelo Ciatti was the last member of this family; at his death, in 1922, he decided to donate the whole estate to the Municipality of Amelia.

From the beginning, the ownership of the estate by the Municipality of Amelia was problematic.

Angelo Ciatti made provisions for the revenues from the estate to establish a permanent scholarship for poor families and to improve the Boccarini Boarding School in Amelia, and to support local education and charity in general. The college was run by the Franciscans and, since 1932, by the Salesian Fathers, and it was the most important school not only for Amelia, but for all the small villages and town in a range of several kilometers. According to Angelo Ciatti’s philanthropic wishes, Amelia was becoming an educational centre for the whole rural district; other towns with relevant school institutions were too far (Todi, Orvieto and Terni).

Two problems emerged following Ciatti’s wishes according his will: first of all, strong opposition from some distant relatives created some legal and administrative challenges after the estate became part of the Municipality of Amelia. Second, two different municipalities were involved in the same property, though in different roles and positions: Amelia was the legal and formal owner, but Forte Cesare is situated in the territory governed by Montecastrilli. Although this dualism seemed to exist without producing any problems in the first decades, it probably created the foundation for later situations of uncertainty, reciprocal discharge of responsibilities and apparent lack of initiative as to the property's care. After World War II, lands and buildings were rented to farmers, and later on to the Molino Cooperativo, a cooperative firm managing farming and milling activities, originally related to the cereal crops produced in the area.

Particularly after the earthquake of July 30, 1978, the condition of the abandoned buildings deteriorated heavily. Both lands and buildings fell into a slow but inexorable decline, due to theft and decay soon after. Before the end of the 20th century, the asset had turned into a burden for the mayor’s budget.

In 1986, the Municipality of Amelia requested a grant to develop the area through an initiative co-funded by the P.I.M. program and by the Regional Government of Umbria. Forte Cesare was included in three proposals: File A, 20 hectares of land assigned to an ungulate stock-breeding (fallow deer); File D, 120/150 hectares of land assigned to sheep farming; and File E, proposes to restore the villa and other close buildings to establish a training-college for students in agriculture, farming and rural hospitality; a restaurant and a show-store for local products were included in the project. Costs (E file only) amounted to 1.5 billion Lire

The P.I.M. projects were not funded, nor realized. This is the only documented project, made by the Municipality of Amelia, where a rough vision of an integrated solution is sketched, putting together “lands and buildings”. However, the proposed solutions contained a significant flaw: the cultural, historical and aesthetic value of the site was completely missing from the analysis, and consequently, twenty years after the P.I.M. draft project, a muddling through approach caused Forte Cesare – its condition further damaged and abandoned - to be sold to a private company.

When the estate was sold in 2005, no inventory was annexed to the contract. According to Angelo Ciatti’s holograph will, the holdings of Forte Cesare included:
1) The main villa, surrounded by 4 minor buildings, cisterns (this is important because the area is rich of water generally speaking, but not the hill where Forte Cesare was built), a big garden and vineyard surrounded by a wall; 2) the Chapel; 3) Water springs; 4) Croplands; 5) Grasslands; 6) Woods and copses; and 7) Orchards, including chestnut, wine, olive and more. 
a) Holy vessels, not better specified; b) Furniture, furnishing and fittings; c) Paintings (not specified in number, position, artist and age); d) Other “non social” rural tools (that probably means that, at that time, part of the implements for farming were collectively owned or used, whilst others were individually owned; customs from the Middle Ages still ruled the relationship between landlord and farmers); and e) Cattle and crops.
This list seems to be the only inventory ever made on Forte Cesare’s assets and real estates, a fact that makes its importance profound. The new owner has been working since the acquisition to on a project of restoration of the buildings and economic exploitation of the area. The project has not been approved by the Authorities yet. The Municipality of Montecastrilli, the Province of Terni, the Region of Umbria and Soprintendenza Beni Ambientali, Architettonici, Artistici e Storici of Perugia are involved.

The idea is to create a resort, turning the main building into a five star luxury hotel and restaurant; an 18-hole golf course and a spa will be created as part of the recreational facilities, sport and entertainment components of the resort concept. The project is ambitious and far-seeing, but far from the original heritage.

Luca Antonini originally wrote an academic paper under the same title for ARCA's Program in November 2012. Susan Douglas served as editor for adapting this piece  for the ARCA blog.

Luca Antonini graduated from ARCA program in 2012/3 and has a degree in economics from the University of Torino. Since the middle of the 90's, he has been working as project manager in local and sustainable development projects co-funded by the European Union. He specializes in managing non-government organizations (NGOs).

June 20, 2014

ARCA '14 Conference, Panel IV: The Genuine Article: Fakes and Forgeries and the Art of Deception

On Saturday June 28 in Amelia, these presenters will make up the panel on fakes and forgeries at ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference:

Would the real Mr. Goldie please stand up?
Penelope Jackson M. Phil, University of Queensland, MA University of Auckland
Director, Tauranga Art Gallery Toi Tauranga, New Zealand

Forgery and Offenses Resembling Forgery
Susan Douglas, PhD Concordia University
Lecturer (Assistant Professor) Contemporary Art and Theory, University of Guelph

In the Red Corner: “Connoisseurship and Art History”, and the Blue Corner: “Scientific Testing and Analysis” – Who’s right in determining Authenticity?
Toby Bull, Senior Inspector of Police, Hong Kong Police Force
Founder, TrackArt (Art Risk Consultancy), Hong Kong