How does the way in which a research body interacts with its host city change? How can archeology influence our perception of the present and our daily surroundings? We spoke about this and much else with Daniele Malfitana, archeologist and head of Ibam Cnr. One of the most interesting research bodies operating on Italian territory and which has its headquarters right under the volcano Mt. Etna. “In the past,” the professor says, “much of our work was carried out in places such as Turkey, Albania and Greece. Over the last few years I have tried to change the coordinates of our mission, placing emphasis not only on the Mediterranean, but also on Catania, a great cultural centre.”

Prof. Malfitana, what is the open-city project and how can it be enjoyed by visitors?
“The first question we tried to answer after deciding to share research with the public was: how can we manage the cultural heritage of the city through the use of modern technology? The basic idea behind the open-city project was to create a large database which is accessible on various levels. Basically, every user, regardless of whether they are researchers, journalists or amateurs can use the database according to their needs. Working on this project has allowed us to focus on core issues of this city.”

How is research on the historic centre moving forward?
In Catania, we have two cities on top of one another. Although they coexist, citizens have no awareness of the ancient city, the one prior to 1693. What we are aiming to do is to obtain, through a laser scanner, this underground archeological heritage and to digitally recreate the ancient city.”

What will be the result of this 3-D reconstruction?
One result will be to understand the actual size of the ancient city. When we think about the Achillean Thermal Baths, the Amphitheater and the Benedettini complex, we don’t correctly perceive them in space and time because the modern city lays on top of much of the ancient one. Being able to create a specific image will allow for great opportunities for scientific research, but also for the common citizens who will become aware of where they truly live.”

Video by Ibam Cnr

Helping citizens become aware of the city’s monuments was one of the aims behind your initiatives at the Amphitheater in Piazza Stesicoro. Why did you request to manage that space?
“When we first started working on that monument we were very disappointed by its poor conditions. We also noticed that late in the evening, once the lights went out, it was totally invisible to passers-by. It was necessary to make it come to life again. This is why we asked the regional government to let us manage it. We will bring it back to the people together with a virtuous management style that will allow young people to feel included and to find opportunities for employment.

How, exactly?
“Since we have managed the amphitheater, we have organised 41 events which attracted almost 2500 visitors. If each of them had paid a 5 euro ticket, the revenue would have been considerable. Similarly, if the guide books we developed had been put on sale, we would have had another source for revenue. A well-organized program would allow enough revenue to keep a small business going. Should we apply the same principle to other monuments, we would effectively be contributing to lowering unemployment for new generations.”

Wouldn’t you be privatizing a public monument by doing so?
“No, because the regional government would remain the legal owner of the monument, but the management of the cultural activities that take place in it would temporarily be entrusted to an enterprise responsible also for taking care of the monument itself. In the past, we have had deals with the regional government whereby the government was responsible for the maintenance of the monuments; however, this was impossible due to lack of funds. If it is an enterprise that manages aspects including ordinary maintenance, the enterprise itself would have an interest in making sure the monument is in excellent conditions.”

Will this enterprise be able to pay for maintenance and initiatives only through the sale of tickets? Also, if all responsibilities were lifted from the regional government, what would happen to current groundkeepers?
Investors would provide a solution to this problem. For example, we were able to improve the lighting at the amphitheater thanks to a donation by Kiwanis, which donated 3 huge spotlights. At the same time, the Braille printing house donated a braille map for visually impaired visitors. With regard to the groundkeepers we will have to find a solution; they will probably be assigned a new role or be directly involved in a new activity.”