Europa Nostra and EIB Institute on mission to San Benedetto Po, Italy

Heritage and financial experts from Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank (EIB) Institute visited the monastery of Polirone in San Benedetto Po, one of The 7 Most Endangered Monuments and Sites in Europe, and took part in several working meetings with local and national entities on 10-11 September. The Renaissance monastery was severely damaged by two earthquakes in May 2012 and is in urgent need of restoration. A discussion about the current state of the building, as well as the financial plan for its complete rehabilitation, dominated the agenda.

Rescue Mission in San Benedetto Po, Italy

The small town of San Benedetto Po is situated in the north of Italy, a few kilometres from Mantua, deep in the Po valley. The monastery was founded by Tedaldo of Canossa in 1007, on an island between the Po and Lirone rivers. The Benedectine monastery played a primary role in the history of the Italian Monarchy for religious, political and cultural affairs until occupation by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797.

The monastery is comprised of the abbey church, dating to the 15th century and restored by Giulio Romano in 1539-1540; the monastic refectory, adorned with a wall painting ascribed to Antonio Allegri of Correggio; three cloisters, all dating to the 15th century; the ancient cellar, which houses a large collection of antique agricultural carts; the Capitolo hall, with archaeological excavations of abbots’ graves and the foundations of buildings dating to the Dark Ages; and the Polirone Civic Museum, located on the first floor of the monastery, which accommodates one of the most important ethno-anthropological collections in Italy, with some ten thousand pieces. Nominated Gioiello d’Italia in 2012, San Benedetto Po is one of the Borghi più Belli d’Italia and is also in the Fédération Européenne des Sites Clunisiens.

From 2005 to 2012, an extensive and costly restoration was undertaken which included renovation of the church, the museum, the ex-refectory, the ex-nursery, the three cloisters and the Capitolo hall. The work was largely completed when the earthquakes on 20 and 29 May 2012 struck, which severely damaged the monastery and set back the entire conservation process. Since then, large parts of the monument have become inaccessible, including the public library, some areas of the museum and the town hall, due to the risks of falling debris or collapse. Emergency works to secure the buildings took place after the earthquake. However, the complete restoration of the monastery is estimated to cost 10 million euro, which requires national and European technical and financial support.

On 10 September, the delegation of Europa Nostra, represented by its Board Member Rossana Bettinelli and its Scientific Council Member Ioanna Steriotou, and the EIB Institute, represented by Richard Deeley, were welcomed to the Polirone Civic Museum by the Mayor of San Benedetto, Marco Giavazzi, and the project’s team, namely the engineers Florindo Lanfredi, Stefano De Vito and Nicola Berlucchi and the conservator of the Museum Federica Guidetti. Representing the Lombardy Region were Maurizio Monoli and Sabrina Filetti. After the first working meeting, in which the extensive restoration works undertaken from 2005 to 2012 and the emergency rehabilitation works carried out after the earthquakes and the respective costs involved were discussed, the heritage and financial experts made a tour of the Museum and the monastery buildings. The second working meeting was focused on the rehabilitation programme of the monument and models of financing.

On 11 September, following a third working meeting, the delegation visited the church and the ‘parish oratory’ (where young people have catechism lessons in the winter and play together in the summer) with the representatives of the association Amici della Basilica, the parish technicians and two members of the curia, Monsignor Manzoni and Don Stefano Savoia.

During the press conference, the Mayor of San Benedetto stressed the importance of the European mission. “The restoration of the monastery is a huge task, both in financial and technical terms, which requires widespread cooperation and mobilisation. With the support of Europa Nostra and the EIB Institute, we hope to be able to face the many challenges which lie ahead of us”, said Marco Giavazzi. “The first priority is to ensure the safety conditions of the buildings; the second one is to fully restore the monument”, stated Rossana Bettinelli. Richard Deeley reaffirmed the commitment of the EIB Institute to providing analysis and advice on funding-related matters.

The results of the rescue mission to San Benedetto Po will be presented, together with the outcomes of the other six missions, at the European Heritage Policy Conference, organised by Europa Nostra, in Brussels on 5 December.

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