May 6th, 1976, 40 years ago: a tragic watershed in Friulian history. One of the worst earthquakes ever occurred in Italy erased several villages and killed almost 1000 people. The appalling earthquake in Friuli deeply upset local populations, acquiring a national and international relevance. At 09.00 pm of May 6th a dreadful earthquake (6,4 Richter degrees) destroyed parts of Udine and Pordenone provinces. After the initial shock, data were collected: 965 victims (24 more would die in September during another earthquake), three-thousands injured, 200.000 homeless citizens, several tragic effects worsened by hostile terrain conditions and mountain locations. Villages such as Trasaghis, Bordano, Osoppo, Venzone, Gemona were almost entirely wiped out by the “Orcolat”, the ogre traditionally associated with earthquakes. For the first time in history, TV channels followed the earthquake in Friuli live, while the government immediately allocated funds to rebuild the area: Giuseppe Zamberletti, the commissioner who took in charge first aids and reconstruction plans, is still considered as a commendable example, successfully planning the rebuilding process. It took 10 years to entirely restore the area.
1976-Memory fragments in Gemona
Some months ago I visited Gemona del Friuli, where, in the former Babel Gallery art, an earthquake exhibition can be freely visited (it opened in 2011 and was transformed from a temporary to a permanent “museum”). The exhibition title is meaningful and symbolic – “1976-Memory fragments” – and aims at reaching a wide audience. With its red inscriptions on a white, aseptic background, the exhibition is very well organized, both focusing on the earthquake tragedy and on the reconstruction miracle: a sort of journey throughout Gemona history, comparing its past with its present, underlining the deep change caused by the earthquake in Friuli.
The exhibition is arranged on two floors: the ground floor focuses on the earthquake and on its devastating effects on Gemona (portrayed as a ghostly, disturbing village), shows film clips of 1976, presents some boxes with rubble (wood, stones, a doll left by her owner), whereas the first floor centers on reconstruction works and on personalities that made the process go on.
What really stands out is the temper and strong personality of Friulians, who were able to face the horror with dignity, pride and abnegation: by working hard and smartly using reconstruction funds, they found the strength to rise again, motivated by their deep roots and secular history. The Friulian reconstruction model is nowadays judged as a perfect paradigm of union between common people and institutions fighting for the same goal.
Earthquake in Friuli: 4 reconstruction methods
By reading about the earthquake and taking part to a guided visit in Gemona, I learnt that the construction strategy implemented after the earthquake in Friuli focused on priorities: companies first, to make manifacturing activities quickly restart; then schools and hospitals; then houses to make people come out of tent cities; lastly, monuments (one of the last monuments to be rebuilt is Gemona castle, that will reopen in a couple of months, in 2016!).
Reconstruction was not always carried out in the same way, since four methods can easily be recognized:
- Anastylosis: the first method is a technique whereby a ruined building is restored using the original architectural elements and materials to the greatest degree possible, placed in their original position. The area presents several monuments and palaces rebuilt according to the anastylosis method: the cathedral in Gemona (where twisted columns, bent after the earthquake, constantly remind citizens of the tragedy); the palaces in Via Bini in Gemona, rebuilt exactly as they were before 1976; the small town of Venzone, one of the most successful examples of this method.
- Same function/different aspect: some of the buildings were reconstructed keeping their original function though altering their external appeareance. The most meaningful example is the Palace of Banca d’Italia in Gemona, redesigned by the archistar Carlo Scarpa according to a more modern taste.
- Brand-new aspect: several local administrations decided to entirely rebuild monuments/buildings from scratch, without considering their originary aspect. This strategy was subject to several criticisms, such as in Buja (close to Gemona), a small town dominated by reinforced concrete and linear buildings.
- No reconstruction: in some, sporadic cases, a precise will not to proceed with a reconstruction process prevailed. The most evident example is the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Gemona, that still presents the effect of destruction, in a perpetual “memento mori” message.
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