Forest of Saint Francis

Luca Chiarini

Forest of Saint Francis

FAI La Cavallerizza Via Carlo Foldi, 2 20135 Milano

Assisi, Italy

Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Award 2013 laureate

Restoring The San Francesco Woodland

FAI: not just an acronym but also a part of the Italian verb "FARE", meaning "TO DO".
FAI - Fondo Ambiente Italiano, the Italian National Trust, is a national, non-profit foundation that was established in 1975 with one concrete objective: to safeguard Italy''s artistic assets and natural heritage.
The mission of FAI - Fondo Ambiente Italiano is twofold: on the one hand, it is to promote a tangible culture of respect for Italy''s natural heritage, art, history and traditions; and on the other, it is to protect a legacy that forms a fundamental part of the roots and identity of the Italian people.

Day in, day out, this commitment sees FAI engaged in:
Protecting and enhancing
FAI has restored and opened to the public numerous unique monuments and natural history sites in Italy, entrusted to it through donations or concessions.
Educating and raising awareness
FAI educates and raises the awareness of the public with a view to increasing their knowledge of, respect for and dedication to art and nature, which are among the defining elements of Italy''s national identity.
Supervising and intervening
FAI serves as the spokesperson for the interests and expectations of the public, pro-actively supervising and intervening on their behalf across the country to defend Italy''s landscape and cultural assets.

FAI - Fondo Ambiente Italiano manages a set of assets of exceptionally high value in terms of their history, culture, landscape and natural heritage, with a view to conserving, supporting and enhancing the environment on behalf of the Italian people and those from further afield. Dealing with the environment means dealing not only with the places where people live but also with how people live, develop and operate in those places. It is in this sense that FAI is concerned with the landscape, which - according to the Italian Code of Cultural Assets - is territory that encapsulates a sense of identity, the character of which derives from the action of natural and human factors and from the inter-relation of those factors.
By "landscape" we mean, then, a living organism undergoing constant evolution, representing the encounter between natural elements and human activity in the fields of town planning, architecture, art, economics, rural life and handicrafts, which have over time become stratified and have taken their place within a complex and dynamic system of relationships.
In addition to embracing the definition of "landscape" set out in the "European Landscape Convention", FAI operates above all on the basis of the constitutional legislation, which acknowledges the landscape''s value in terms of culture and identity - a value that belongs to the entire nation and, as such, is subject to protection.
Article 9 of the Constitution of the Italian Republic states: "The Republic safeguards the landscape and the historic and artistic heritage of the Nation".
FAI''s work should be considered to all intents and purposes a social activity, because the beneficiaries of FAI''s work are people. People are also valuable and indispensable allies of FAI in the fulfilment of its mission; if FAI had no members, if its properties had no visitors, if there were no major national events, FAI would be nothing more than a property trust with no outreach at all.

The restoration of San Francesco Woodland
When, in 2008, FAI completed the transfer of ownership of the San Francesco Woodland, following its donation to the Trust, the woodland was in a state of advanced decay: the path that runs down from the basilica of San Francesco to the Benedictine complex of Santa Croce had been broken up by a landslide; the entire surrounding forest was overgrown after years of neglect, with dead but still standing trees and trees that had come crashing down; the imposing wall of the Hospice was suffocated by vegetation; the Church of Santa Croce was suffering from damp and had been robbed of its small bell; the rooms of the adjacent parsonage were empty and crumbling; the Mill, damaged by the latest earthquake, was falling apart and had lain unused for years; the dry walls of the no longer cultivated olive groves had collapsed; and the paths that rise back up the valley of the Tescio stream from the bridge of Santa Croce had been invaded by briar. This was the starting point for the conservation and restoration project by FAI, geared towards the recovery of the natural, historical and cultural elements that characterise these 64 hectares of the Italian landscape, which were in a sorry state due, above all, to neglect.

The works, undertaken in late 2010, initially concerned the paths and wooded areas. As part of the effort to recover and integrate the network of existing paths, a trail was created that runs from the piazza of the Basilica Superiore down to the complex of Santa Croce, before then rising up the valley of the Tescio stream to the clearing of the Terzo Paradiso and finally returning along the opposite bank of the stream towards the Mill. The paths have been made safe through the construction of wooden parapets, reinstating the wooden and stone terraced steps and restoring the rainwater channelling works, whereas the two fords of the Tescio stream have been made easier and safer to cross through the sinking of large masses into the river bed.
The most challenging part of the works was that relating to the Santa Croce complex, where a well-orchestrated series of operations was required to achieve the conservative restoration of the buildings, with structural consolidation and dehumidification works being implemented alongside efforts to make the buildings functional once again. While the parsonage was overhauled to play host to a welcome area and information point for visitors, complete with a bookshop and a dedicated exhibition, the Mill was refurbished as a catering facility.
The Hospice area saw the restoration of the remains of the perimeter wall. Fig, walnut and other fruit trees were used to mark out once again the internal terracing, thereby evoking the lost garden of the Benedictine nuns.
The archaeological excavations also concerned the area adjacent to the tower. The tower''s walled structure was consolidated and its collapsed vault was reconstructed. In addition, a new iron staircase was inserted internally to provide access to the roof, which is a veritable belvedere, taking in the clearing of the Terzo Paradiso and the valley of the Tescio stream.

The operation to realise Michelangelo Pistoletto''s major work of land art was highly unusual: 121 olive trees were planted in dual rows in the clearing to delineate the symbol of the Terzo Paradiso, with a compacted crushed stone path located between the two rows. A 12 metre high stainless steel pole has been driven into the ground at the centre of the work to symbolise the union of the sky and the water that flows through the sub-soil.
However, the landscape restoration project has not come to an end with the inauguration and opening to the public of the San Francesco Woodland. The recovery and regeneration operations carried out thus far have, in fact, focused on a mere 15 of the total of 64 hectares that comprise the woodland. Over the coming years, FAI will execute a cohesive set of agroforestal operations that will make it possible to complete the regeneration works and will guarantee the sustainable management of the entire site.


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