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Rocky Civilization

Restoration project of the rock churches and enhancement of the park of Murgia Timone

  • Client:
    Invitalia S.p.A.
  • Year:
  • Type:
  • Status:
    finished work
  • Team:
    arch. F. Russo (team leader), arch. R. Russo, ing. G. Sblendorio, arch. Stefano Serpenti, ing. Vito Sciruicchio, Geoatlas S.r.l., arch. A. Trisolini, arch. M.C. Petralla, ing. C. Zaccagnino, dott. G. De Felice
  • Consultants:
    dott.ssa G. Lubisco, dott.ssa M. Milella, dott. L. Forte
  • Surface:
    25 hectares
  • Location:
    Matera (MT) - Italy

Matera is one of the few urban settlements that has maintained a temporal continuity and a vital dwelling unity from the most ancient ages to contemporary times. Its territory preserves testimonies of human settlements that, starting from the Paleolithic, arrive uninterruptedly until our days.
Also for this reason, Matera was officially declared the first site in Southern Italy "World Heritage Site" by UNESCO in 1993 and has been designated "European Capital of Culture" for 2019.
The site of Murgia Timone is located within the protected area of the Historical and Natural Archaeological Park of the Rock Churches of Matera, in which there are many rock churches, the Neolithic entrenched village and several emergencies of the traditional agro-pastoral system, such as the Jazzo Gattini.

Rock churches
The "architectures in negative" that characterize the area of intervention are the numerous rupestrian churches and jazzi that have defined for centuries the agro-pastoral system of Matera. Among them, the Jazzo Gattini and seven rock churches have been selected by the Municipality and are the object of architectural and landscape restoration: Church of San Pietro in Pricipibus, Church of San Falcione, Church of San Vito alla Murgia, Asceterio of Sant'Agnese, Church of Sant’Agnese, Church of the Madonna delle Tre Porte, Church of the Madonna della Croce.

Project Objectives
Within the event Matera European Capital of Culture 2019, the project of the Parco della Storia dell’Uomo - Civiltà rupestre e preistoria has the ambition not only to reactivate the itinerary of the rock churches and the prehistoric entrenched villages, which dot the territory of Matera, but above all to become a model of enhancement of a tourism compatible with the state of the places and the architectural and landscape heritage.

A campaign of advanced surveys was carried out aimed at the topographic, geometric and material reconstruction of the areas under examination.
In particular, thanks to the precision of the technologies used it was possible to obtain for the first time an accurate survey of the entire site of Murgia Timone and an exact image of the perimeter of the two enclosures of the moat of the entrenched village, overcoming the obvious inaccuracies of the surveys in the literature. As a result of the investigations conducted, a manual archaeological excavation was carried out for the point of intersection between the georadar surveys and the thermal infrared surveys that returned the layout of the trench.

Architectural restoration
Given the particularity of the site, the restoration project was based on the postulate that restoration is always a post factum intervention, that is, capable at most of repairing damage, but certainly not of preventing its reproduction or even less of preventing it. In order for this to be possible, it is necessary that the reversal of traditional restoration, until now postulated only in theory as "preventive restoration", take shape. Therefore, a new operational methodological approach has been privileged, one that establishes a new relationship between "restoration" and "conservation - maintenance", defining an ideal consecutio temporum between the necessary restoration interventions and future conservation and maintenance interventions.
What all the churches and underground tombs had in common was an advanced state of deterioration, attributable to the problems of humidity - ascending and descending - and structural degradation that led to the formation of lesions, fractures and cracks of significant size. These phenomena of degradation are attributable to the mineralogical nature of the rock formations in which the rock churches and the hypogea were obtained.
In relation to the causes and elements of degradation found, the intervention was divided into macro-categories:
•    Disinfestation and application of biocide, applied with brushes,
•    Manual removal of weeds,
•    Interior cleaning: Mechanical cleaning using brushes and brushes of different sizes, scalpel for the removal of all inconsistent deposits, with every care for the preservation of the natural patina; Cleaning with water and cellulose pulp for the incisions on the stone,
•    External cleaning: Mechanical cleaning by means of sorghum and soft brushes;
•    Laying inside three churches of a new flooring in rustic wrought earthenware,
•    Installation of thermo-hygrometric detection system,
•    Security system of the extrados of the churches through the arrangement of rocks of medium size and handrails in CorTen steel to avoid the widespread walking on the roofs of the churches.

Biodeteriogens were removed from the hypogeous tombs with sorghum brushes and subsequent rinsing of the surfaces with demineralized water for the tests with biocide. At the same time as the cleaning operations, a surface consolidation of the calcarenitic apparatus was carried out, in cases of surface disintegration and pulverization. The consolidation was carried out by spraying nanocalci.
Contextually to the consolidation operations, micro plastering has been carried out with selected mortar based on slaked lime, stone powder, yellow cocciopesto, red cocciopesto.

The structural works planned are mainly characterized by consolidation interventions identified in the logic of local improvement of the resistant capacities of the structures and with the intent to prevent dangerous degenerative phenomena, which originate in the natural degradation and evolution of the rocky material that constitutes the structures themselves.
The proposed strategy is therefore aimed at the widespread restoration of the conditions of resistance of the structure, through the reconstruction of the collapsed parts, partly the result of previous restorations, the reintegration of the missing parts, the re-modelling and strengthening of the rock-foundation system, the suturing of the discontinuities of the existing stone structure, the insertion of connection devices capable of ensuring the compactness of the sections, while maintaining a high degree of compatibility, reversibility and discreet recognizability.
The following types of general consolidation interventions were carried out:
•    Compensation of horizontal lacks and voids: the intervention has provided for operations of stitching and unstitching of existing masonry and reintegration of gaps with reused or supplementary stone masonry, as well as injections of hydraulic lime mortar of elastic modulus comparable to the existing lithoid;
•    Restoration of lesions on horizontal and vertical surfaces: low-pressure injections with hydraulic lime mortar mixtures were foreseen;
•    Improvement of the connections of the masonry walls, pillars and stone elements through the insertion of transversal tie-rods: stainless steel bar with improved adherence for anchorage with natural hydraulic lime mortar and load distribution plate (header) concealed by reconstruction of the rocky bank were positioned,
•    Reinforcement of stone lintels by insertion of GFRP devices;
•    Rebuilding of vertical load-bearing elements: it was preferred to use traditional techniques of integration and consolidation of existing structures, through the integration of masonry in stone material squared or rough-hewn recovery from the site itself, arranged with a cross apparatus to obtain the monolithicity of the pillar and hydraulic mortar;

In addition to these generalized interventions on all the churches and hypogea, special interventions were necessary:
•    Church Madonna delle Tre Porte: it was made the use of a partial reconstruction by anastylosis of the narthex recomposing the part whose boulders were still recognizable. The reconstruction was also useful for the protection of the frescoes as it guaranteed a natural removal of meteoric water and UV rays. The reconstruction is aimed at giving back the sense of the original spatiality but it is limited to a single portion in order to avoid that excessive restorations subtract the user from a direct perception of the condition of injury. The two pillars that characterized the entrance of the church have been reconstructed on which the collapsed boulders have been repositioned and anchored to the rocky bank through stainless steel tie rods.
•    Church San Vito alla Murgia: the erosion of the weak layers has led to the partial collapse of the vault that closed the church so that the remaining portion is supported as a cantilevered plate leaning on two sides. Therefore, an intervention was planned to improve the reliability of this covering structure by means of a double tensioning of the vault, easily concealable, in order to avoid local collapses.  

Restoration of decorated surfaces
The frescoes of all the rock churches are characterized by having been executed with a half-fresh technique.
Thermal stress, continuous freeze-thaw cycles, crystallization of soluble salts in the long run have led to a disintegration of the rocky material (detachments, cracks, exfoliation and pulverization).
The restoration intervention, calibrated for each church, has always followed two guidelines: 1. Integral conservation; 2. Minimum aesthetic reintegration. This in order to block or at least slow down the structural degradation.
All interventions have been carried out after the application of biocide and the plastering has been done under level. Consolidation was carried out both at a punctual level on every type of deep and superficial detachment and at a more diffuse level on the rock face.
Subsequently, the necessary cycles of dry cleaning and short cycles of compresses were carried out. Finally, the grouting phase followed with Lafarge, medium-grained marble powder and natural pigment.
The cleaning operations at the Church Sant'Agnese have brought to light a very ancient fresco, directly painted on stone, depicting the figure of the Saint, dating back to the late Roman period as inferable from some fragments emerged of the vestiges.

Window frames
In order to ensure adequate protection of the churches from vandalism or improper use, new CorTen steel frames have been inserted, self-supporting, so as to move away from the rock. The new frames characterize the openings of the churches without distorting the rocky nature, ensuring both the visual goal and the overall reading of the contemporary intervention. Some are characterized by the presence of adjustable slats, for the protection and safety of the interior spaces of the churches and the preservation of decorated surfaces, while ensuring adequate ventilation of the environments and protection from ultraviolet rays.
“Belvederes” restoration and mobility system upgrading
The strategy has focused on providing the Park with a new sustainable mobility and has identified Contrada Murgia Timone, before the asphalted roadway intervention, as the main axis of the new road system inside the Park. The axis, about 1.4 km long, is converted into a new pedestrian and bicycle path in solid soil with the typical colors of the Murgia of Matera, closed to private traffic in zone 30 for the only shuttles of the City of Matera, capable of configuring itself as a new stage of the landscape crossed.
Along the Contrada the existing widenings, previously used as mere parking lots, have been redeveloped and converted as scenic spots and equipped rest areas. Two viewpoints have been identified in correspondence of the Church San Falcione and Sant’Agnese that are configured as places of rest and refreshment from the heat, characterized by new wooden landmarks: removable wooden observatories, designed so as to integrate with the landscape system and useful for a new guided landscape experience, thanks to the toposcope.

Routes and paths
The intervention has precisely identified the paths to be taken to access the seven churches that are the object of the intervention and in particular for the Church Madonna delle Tre Porte and San Falcione it was necessary to remodel the existing path in order to guarantee an enlarged accessibility. In consideration of the orography of the ground and of the disposition of the rocky churches, two visiting paths have been identified, oriented on the level of difficulty and/or of available time: Path 1, low level of difficulty, short walk; Path 2, high level of difficulty, long walk.
Inside the Park a new integrative signage has been inserted in order to valorize the fruitive-didactic experience of knowledge of the territory, from the faunistic-geological-botanical-vegetational point of view, composed by iron filiform elements in CorTen steel; recognizable elements to be placed at uniform distances to help the visitor to orient himself inside the Park.

Lighting and video monitoring of the rock churches
A lighting system has been realized only for the Churches San Falcione, Madonna delle Tre Porte and Madonna della Croce pursuing the criteria of energy saving with LED technology, with remote management, able to highlight the architectural and landscape peculiarities of the emergencies and areas. Near the Churches San Falcione and Madonna delle Tre Porte a remote video monitoring system was installed.

The multimedia project has aimed at enhancing and connecting the existing cultural and environmental heritage through centralizing points that act as access doors to the Park's routes: the Visitor Center of Jazzo Gattini and the complex of the Church San Falcione.
Jazzo Gattini will act as the first information gate thanks to the setting up of a new multimedia museum where the user will be able to understand the peculiarities of the site from a historical-anthropological, faunal and geological as well as archaeological point of view. The sheepfold of the Jazzo welcomes real scenes and virtual reconstructions, alternating immersive stations and interactive exhibits, moments of collective vision and individual fruition, so as to ensure visitors a varied, exciting and engaging experience: a large multi-user touchscreen monitor allows visitors to explore the archaeological excavation of Murgia Timone; columns equipped with VR helmets and audio cuffie allow visitors to immerse themselves in the virtual reality of the historical-anthropic use of the Murgia Materana through reconstructive hypotheses in 3D.