Aics and Florence University together for the protection of cultural heritage and socio-economic development in fragile contexts

The protection and enhancement of cultural heritage are a flywheel for socio-economic development in the fragile contexts, where the Italian Cooperation operates. This approach was at the core of the international Conference that took place in Florence on10th  and 11th  of November, organized by the University of Florence (Unifi) with the patronage of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (Aics), the support of the Islamabad Aics office and the Aics Rome, Office III^ – Opportunities and Economic Development. How to best capitalize on the skills of all the actors, involved in culture and heritage protection,  for sustainable and effective development cooperation was the goal of the Conference.

“The cultural sector, where Italy is very talented, is a priority for the action of Italian cooperation,” said Emilio Ciarlo, Aics Head of institutional relations and communication, who intervened at the conference in Florence. “In many Aics funded projects we cooperate with universities, research centers and civil society organizations, with their experiences and cognizance, as well as Italian companies for the restoration and enhancement of cultural heritage and which are excellences at an international level” he explained. Ciarlo then spoke about the attention Aics pays to human and economic development in these initiatives. “It is not taken for granted that culture promotion is considered a lever for development, but it is a fact since it produces over 3% of global GDP and 6% of the employed,” he said.

The first day focused on the role that cultural heritage has in the mitigation of social and economic fragility and in sustainable development, putting in dialogue with some of the main international sectorial organizations – such as Unesco – and several Italian universities with Aics offices operating in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

The Agency, in its first six years of activity, from 2016 to 2021, invested 70 million euros in the cultural sector, exploiting the Italian capability to generate added value for cooperation. The heads of Offices of the Aics Amman (Emilio Cabasino), Beirut (Alessandra Piermattei), Islamabad (Emanuela Benini), and Rosario Centola, former at Aics Kabul, now closed, illustrated this at the Conference.

The Agency has committed significant resources to programs focused on cultural heritage protection and the promotion of sustainable tourism in Jordan, a country rich in historical and archaeological sites, particularly in Petra and Jerash. Here Aics has also recently opened a regional institute for restoration, dedicated to the protection and conservation of monuments, and archaeological and tourist sites. The enhancement of cultural heritage and urban development is the core of some initiatives financed in Lebanon as the restoration and redevelopment of the ancient serial in Baalbek and the Tomb of Tire. In Pakistan, the Italian Cooperation funds allowed the reconstruction of the Swat Museum and the restoration of the Buddha of Jahanabad. New excavations conducted in 2021 also brought back to light the Shahi Vishnuite temple in its entirety.

On the second day, a focus was dedicated to the World Heritage site of Bamiyan, in Afghanistan, at the center of a redevelopment project that sees the Department of History, Archeology, Geography, Art and Entertainment (Sagas) of Unifi partner of Aics Islamabad, following the closure of Aics Kabul last year. The morning sessions examined the main cultural heritage protection actions carried out in the area, with the aim of discussing the results achieved until Taliban came into power and highlighting the most critical issues and sectors in need of further interventions.

Key relationships between the protection of cultural heritage, territorial planning and governance, a crucial theme in the Afghan context, characterized by exponential urban and demographic growth, were also examined. The social dimension’s role in the balance between heritage protection and governance paid specific attention. The contributions presented in these sessions were based on the data collected during the field research that took place immediately before, between April and June 2021, the change in the political scenario. A round table on the eventuality of future cultural cooperation actions in Afghanistan marked the closing of the Conference.

An exhibition organized by Imam Rajabi and Ejaz Ahmadi (University of Florence) entitled “Cultural heritage and climate change” as well as the “Bamiyan Living Culture” video installation, organized by LaGes and Studio Azzurro, was shown at the two days Conference.



Presence and activities by the Italian Archaeological missions in Pakistan

Activities and latest discoveries in Swat, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa by the Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan

The Italian archaeological activities in Swat (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province-KP) began in 1955, when Giuseppe Tucci, a famous Tibetologist and Orientalist, visited the region for the first time. Thus began the work that was to continue uninterruptedly until today, with the Italian archaeological mission of IsMEO, the institute chaired by Tucci (later IsIAO, now ISMEO), taking a leading role in the archaeology of the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent.

The Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan (IAMP) started sondages at Bir-kot-ghwandai (Bazira) in 1977 when Prof. Giorgio Stacul discovered the earliest sequence of the site (1700-800 BCE) with important discoveries of a typical painted pottery of Chalcolitic period. It was only later that the signs of the old city of Bazira were found (1984) in a trial trench by Prof. Pierfrancesco Callieri. In 1985, the defensive wall and a bastion of the city of Bazira were discovered; and in 1987, the same work was done. From the year 1990 to 1992, the southwestern corner of the old city was dig out. From 1993 to 1995, a survey of the entire area was conducted. In 1996, the whole ghwandai (hill) was taken on lease.

From the year 1998 to 2000, excavations on the upper top of Bir-kot-ghwandai were carried out. In this work, the Hindu Shahi temple and other relics ranging from Bronze Age to the Ghaznavid period were discovered. In the year 2001, activists tried to destroy the temple on the upper top of the ghwandai, which caused damage to the relics and structure of the temple. After this, IAMP covered the temple to be saved from further damage and destruction. In the year 2002, illegal excavation started at the centre of the site. This practice continued till the year 2008, as the army made the ghwandai a base against the Taliban, and the illegal excavations were no more possible and hence stopped.

From the year 2004 to 2007, fieldwork on the rock painting sites was conducted in the Kandak and other areas by Italian professionals, no fresh work was done in Barikot Ghwandai. Nonetheless, several excavated and non-excavated areas of the site, continued to be leased regularly by the Italians, so as to preserve the site for the future.  The excavation work was resumed there by the same professionals in 2009, which has continued until today, in 2021. During this period—from the year 2009 till 2021—twenty-one excavation seasons have been carried out.

The ACT project: archaeology and social mobilization

In the year 2014, work under the joint Italian Mission- Directorate of Archaeology and Museums of the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa “Archaeology, Community, Tourism – Field School-ACT” Project was conducted in Abba Sahib-chinah, Amluk-dara, Balo Kalay/Gumbat, Bazira, Saidu Sharif I, Jahanabad, and in the Ghaznavid mosque at Udegram. In all these places, most of the work within the ACT project was restoration. The Italian government spent 2.45 million Euro under the “Pakistan Italy Debt-Swap Agreement – PIDSA” for the ACT Project (which included the reconstruction of the Swat Museum and the restoration of the colossal Jahanabad Buddha).

This year’s excavation, carried out during the month of October 2021, brought to light the Shahi Vishnuite temple in its entirety. As it is known, only the podium remains of the temple (preserved for about 2 meters in height), the related floors, conspicuous part of the decoration with pilasters with pseudo-ionic capitals, remarkable examples of the original marble decoration of the Turki Shahi period. It is in fact in this period that the original temple was founded (c. 670-690 CE) with its sculptural decoration, which included at least three sculptural groups in white marble, including a life-size Vishnu, of which the Gadadevi had already been found in 2000, part of the Cakrapurusa in 2020, and this year the hand of the deity (Vishnu) holding one of his attributes, a conch-shell.

This excavation confirmed that the temple stood on the ruins of a Buddhist sacred area (for which the monumental terrace had been built in the 2nd century CE), and that the demolition of the same temple in the Ghaznavid era (c. 1020 CE) was accompanied by the production of stucco through a giant lime kiln in which the architectural remains (stucco and kanjur) and sculptural remains (stucco and marble) were fired, fed by the gigantic carpentry of the temple (of which the hardware was found) for the production of stucco, which was very important in palatial architecture of the Ghaznavid era.

After the exploration of a series of robbers’pits, the excavation revealed there a very important Buddhist monument preserved, despite the robbers’ vandalism, for three meters in elevation. It is a building on a podium apsidal on which stands a cylindrical cell that housed a small stupa. At the sides of the monument are a minor stupa, a cell and the podium of a monumental pillar. The staircase leading to the cell has been reconstructed in three phases, the most recent dating back to the 2nd-3rd century CE, coeval with a series of rooms in the form of a pronaos leading to an entrance that opened onto a public courtyard overlooking an ancient road, probably one of the road axes that led from one of the city gates to the center of the ancient city. The oldest staircase still bore in situ a dedicatory inscription in Kharoshti, paleographically of the 1st century CE, half of which was found overturned and reused in the late floor mentioned above. the coins found in the reliable layers are consistent with the ceramic material: the final phase presents Kushano-Sasanian and late Kushan coins, the intermediate phase, Kushan coins together with many inscriptions on pottery in Kharoshti, the foundation phase, Saka coins.

The most interesting information comes from the pre-Saka phases of the monument which, with a slightly different form, date back to the Maurya period and later Indo-Greek, as confirmed by coins and pottery. The phases preceding the foundation presented features dating both to the Iron Age and, after a deep layer of alluvium, at about 8 meters from the data point, pertaining to the Chalcolithic.

At the end of the excavations, more than 2200 objects (sculptures, coins, inscriptions, ceramics, ornaments, iron weapons, and stone tools) were found, restored and handed over to the KP Government (Swat Museum).

The Site of Banbhore on the Indus Delta (Thatta – Sindh) – The Italian Historical- Archaeological Mission

In the fifties of the previous century, F.A. Khan carried out a systematic campaign of archaeological excavations, which brought to light amazing information. Afterwards, the site of Banbhore fell again into oblivion until 2010.

On a secondary branch of the Indus, a bastioned citadel (55 towers) dominates the surroundings, which today are populated by a few villages and nomadic shepherds with their flocks. Surrounded by an “archaeological park” of more than 64 acres, it stands out as the outlet to the sea of the capital cities of a long past, international market and main harbour-town on the monsoon routes of the Indian Ocean, “sea/river and land” junction between eastern Africa and the Hindu-Iranian expanses, between the Orient (China and Inner/Central Asia) and the Occident (the Roman empire and Byzantium). Archaeological data (architectonic structures and archaeological evidence) combined with historical data provide a span of peopling of about 15  centuries, from the 3rd- 4th Century b. CE until the 12th–early 13th Century CE.

In 2010, Professor Valeria Piacentini Fiorani, at the time scientific director of Italian research in Makran and Kharan, and Dr Monique Kervran, scientific director of a French research group on the Indus deltaic region, were invited to join hands with Pakistani scholars, under the scientific-direction of Dr Asma Ibrahim, and to resume historical-archaeological research in Banbhore under the scientific coordination of Dr Kaleemullah Lashari. After two years break (2016-end 2017), fieldwork and historical research were continued as a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the General Directorate of Antiquities and Archaeology of Sindh and the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan.

The data so far retrieved are undoubtedly linking the site of Banbhore to the northern regions and to Inner-Central Asia, since pre-Islamic times. Archaeological structures and the archaeological evidence that come from the deep trenches confirm written/textual sources in Greek, Latin, Arminian, Persian and Arabic, in particular.  They enhance the major role played by the Site of Banbhore in given epochs, from pre-Islamic times (Greek and Seleucid) to Parthian-Kushan and, Saka dominions, from the Sasanian to the Islamic era. Then, the site was a major outlet to the sea of the Arab Abbasid Province of Great Sindh, and some later of the Habbari Emirate. With the disintegration of the Emirate at the start of the 11th Century, it became the capital city of an autonomous dominion and, at the same time, harbour- town and market of production and re-distribution of luxury goods much on request at the time.