Cultural remnants? What to do with the Castello di Drena?

The partial collapse of the fortification around the castle of Drena has further weakened the already badly battered structure. Stabilizing it as soon as possible is the most pressing task. But in addition to public safety, economic and cultural arguments arise. Here are my thoughts about them, and a suggested solution: 

Italy brims over with castles. The economic burden of their maintenance falls on Municipalities, Provinces, Governments, ultimately on the tax payer. The revenues obtained from a few annual visitors covers hardly a tiny fraction of the maintenance cost. This is particularly true for the castello di Drena, and now the collapse of the wall has added to the dilemma. In addition to the work required to restore safety, the options range from doing nothing and declare the castle unsfe, to a complete restoration that would last an eternity, cost a fortune, and would increase neither attraction nor revenue. What other options are there?


To be frank, I do not see historical buildings as a priori "sacred" and separate from the present, being historic monuments only. To me, this is a waste of opportunity. The past and the present are not separate, they are connected: we are the present and part of the past at once. I would prefer that architectural heritage be used with an open mind and with the courage to adapt buildings to current functions, to invigorate them and thus truly loving them. As indeed the ancients always did!

By themselves, well-preserved ancient buildings are no more than testimonials of the past. But is that enough? Couldn't they also be allowed to fulfill a function beyond just being living memories? Be visited, inhabited even if possible? Couldn't they be part of contemporary life and made attractive to a greater number of visitors and users so they can experience the change of times by being exposed to them and using them, rather than just through academic interest in them?

Today the Castello di Drena is noticed in passing by thousands of cyclists and hikers enjoying the wonderful surroundings. The structure is clearly visible from afar in a valley visited by hordes of tourists every year. Neither the reopening of the museum nor a genuine restoration would realize the enormous potential of the place and building, nor will it help to increase revenue. Here is my proposal:

1. Structurally stabilize the ruins effectively and well. The ancients only had stones and lime mortar. We have ductile materials and advanced technologies to make structures last much longer. Let's use them!

2. Let's leave the new breach in the wall as it has occurred. For more than a thousand years, the castle has continued to crumble little by little. Today's ruins represent only a small part of its past substance. If there was a moral duty to restore it, we should do it all, not just heal that last wound!

3. In addition to the work mandated by public safety, let's find a use for the building that exploits its position, allows its use for concerts, congresses, weddings, banquets, theatrical presentations, from a superb lookout: it may not require more than a roof and a window at the gap in the wall. I have no doubt that the investment would pay for itself.

Several degrees of intervention are possible. For example, just a simple, uninsulated roof would make the building useful for outdoor activities. It could use a steel frame needed for the mandated stabilization of the walls as support, for a modest additional cost. A structure with heating, ventilation and air conditioning would greatly increase construction and maintenance costs, but also the utility of the building! They are options!


There are examples for what I propose: not far away Reinhold Messner's Juval Castle and the Doria castle in Dolceacqua near Sanremo. In both cases light, elegant and tasteful interventions have been inserted into ancient structures. Both buildings are well used and appreciated by tourists and locals.

Let the Castello di Drena become adapted to serve us, change with us, grow old with us, just as it happens to the whole universe. This is what I would call "using heritage with dignity". I would like historical buildings to be companions in the mysterious process called "life" rather than just museum pieces. The original building is in ruins. Rather than attempting a restoration of that last collapse, let's give it a new life instead!

- florian maurer