From Palmyra to Rome

A male funerary bust from Palmyra, Syria, badly damaged by Islamic State Militants, is now being restored in Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 16, 2017

A male funerary bust from Palmyra, Syria, badly damaged by Islamic State Militants, is now being restored in Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 16, 2017

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.

Male and female funerary busts from Palmyra on display in Rome at the Superior Institute for Conservation and Restoration where they are being restored after being badly damaged by Islamic State Militants. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television Cameraman Gianfranco Stara. February 16, 2017

Male and female funerary busts from Palmyra on display in Rome at the Superior Institute for Conservation and Restoration where they are being restored after being badly damaged by Islamic State Militants. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television Cameraman Gianfranco Stara. February 16, 2017

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.

A female funerary bust from Palmyra, Syria, badly damaged by Islamic State Militants now being restored in Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 16, 2017

A female funerary bust from Palmyra, Syria, badly damaged by Islamic State Militants now being restored in Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 16, 2017

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.

A computer rendering used by restorers to help replicate the destroyed half of a face on a male funerary statue from Palmyra. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. February 16, 2017

A computer rendering used by restorers to help replicate the destroyed half of a face on a male funerary statue from Palmyra. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. February 16, 2017

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.”

A small magnet holds the replica of the missing part of the male funerary bust's face to the original. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television Cameraman Gianfranco Stara. February 16, 2017.

A small magnet holds the replica of the missing part of the male funerary bust’s face to the original. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television Cameraman Gianfranco Stara. February 16, 2017.

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.

Trisha Thomas in the courtyard of the "Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro" in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome. Photo by Chris Warde-Jones February 16, 2017

Trisha Thomas in the courtyard of the “Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro” in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome. Photo by Chris Warde-Jones February 16, 2017

Not to sound sacrilegious, but it looks like Jesus and I go to the same hairdresser.

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

8 Comments

  1. Gwen Thomas
    2017/02/18

    Hair but for the grace of God! Sorry, bad pun, had to.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/19

      Ha, ha, ha– you crack me up. Pretty good pun.

      Reply
  2. Joan Schmelzle
    2017/02/19

    Hi,
    An interesting story and good news about how the restorers have succeeded with the half destroyed male face. It looks like the female’s repair will be easier. I like the photo and can’t say I disagree much about the hairdresser.
    A presto, Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/19

      I am fascinated by their work. However, I wonder what is going to happen to all of Palmyra. How much of what was destroyed and stolen will be recovered and restored, and when will that ever happen. The news from Syria is always so bad. Obviously the people are the priority, but the destruction of Palmyra is so tragic.

      Reply
  3. Alan
    2017/02/19

    the ability and skill of restorers is astonishing – they are like blood donors in the face of the extremists’ destruction. Power to their elbows.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/19

      Restoring historic works of art — from Renaissance paintings to Roman-Empire statues– is a highly valued skill in Italy and they have the best training schools and restorers in the world. In fact, the Superior Institute for Conservations and Restoration is one of them. I have been fascinated in recent years how the restorers are taking advantage of the most modern technology — in this care 3D printers– to improve their work. Interestingly, their building is next to the offices of the Carabinieri (military police) responsible for the protection of cultural heritage. These police are highly trained experts on art and in addition to chasing down stolen works of art are involved in protecting art around the world. I didn’t mention it in the post but the Italian Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, was at the presentation of the busts and he said that Italy is pushing hard with the UN for the establishment of a UN Culture-Protection Force — sort of like the peace-keeping forces that would protect sites like Palmyra.

      Reply
  4. Ciao Chow Linda
    2017/02/21

    Ha ha. The comparison in hairstyles is funny. Hair today, God tomorrow. Thank goodness some of that destroyed artwork is being repaired. It makes me sick to think that the ancient Roman buildings and sculptures from Palmyra are being destroyed. I remember tram no. 8 from my days in Trastevere and I seem to recall visiting that former prison years ago to see an art exhibit. Do they still use it for such things?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/23

      Hi Linda — great to hear from you. I love all the trams in Rome. They seem to be the only form of transportation here that really work — except when they are on strike. Yes, the San Michele prison is used for exhibits so you must have visited it. Hope to see you on your next visit to Rome.

      Reply

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