Dear Blog Readers,
Just a quick blog post to tell you about a little gem of a story I was working on yesterday. The foreign press was invited to visit the restoration laboratory at the famed Superior Institute for Conservation and Restoration in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome to see two funerary busts damaged by the Islamic State in Palmyra and brought to Rome for restoration.
There has been a taxi strike in Rome for the past few days (fear of loosening up regulations and allowing a little competition from Uber), so AP television cameraman Gianfranco Stara and I took the tram n. 8 which trundled along its tracks across the Tiber over to Trastevere. The Institute is in a large building that was once the San Michele prison for underage boys. I must go back and learn more about that.
We got there early and had a chance to film the two busts, from the 2nd or 3rd century A.D, before the crowd of colleagues arrived. The female bust showed a female face surrounded by a veil with her nose and part of her mouth smashed off.
Two restorers were eager to show us their work on the male bust, which had lost half its face. Antonio Iaccarino explained how they had recreated the missing half of the face using laser scanners to film the bust, then inserted the data into a computer and finally produced a computer-rendered, 3D printer-generated replica of the missing part. They then attached magnets both on the replica and on the inside of the original so the new part can be removed. They are still working to make the replica’s color match the original.
Restorer Daria Montemaggiori said she was “filled with anguish” when she first saw the fragments on the ground and realized the violence inflicted on the busts, but added that she was “happy to collaborate in canceling out this massacre.”
Islamic State militants set out to destroy the ancient site of Palmyra when they captured it in 2015. When Syrian government forces retook the site the busts were taken to safety. Palmyra has fallen again into the hands of the Islamic State.
The ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was once part of the Roman province of Syria. It was a stop on the trading routes between the Roman Empire and the East.
The restored busts will be boxed up and returned to a museum in Damascus, Syria at the end of the month following the same route they came, through diplomatic channels in Beirut, Lebanon. Restorers hope that one day they will return to their original home in Palmyra.
While we were waiting in the courtyard, my photographer friend, Chris Warde-Jones, took the below photo of me.
Not to sound sacrilegious, but it looks like Jesus and I go to the same hairdresser.