Italy and the international community are in mourning after a 6.2-magnitude earthquake destroyed villages throughout the central part of the country on the morning of Aug. 24, leaving at least 247 people dead and many others injured. In addition to the loss of life, Italy experienced heartbreaking damages to its historical architecture—including famous churches and monuments—serving as an agonizing defeat for artists and historians across the world. The quake hit hardest in the mountainous regions of Umbria, Lazio and Marche, where the towns of Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto are situated, respectively. Tremors and over 200 aftershocks were felt throughout the country and in Rome, which sits almost 100 miles from the most devastated areas. Villagers in San Pellegrino di Norcia remain in tented camps due to leveled ground, a recent New York Times article on Norcia’s cuisine reported.
According to The Guardian, Amatrice is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Italy, with le cento chiese—“the 100 churches”—and countless historical frescos, mosaics and sculptures.
The Amatrice town center suffered serious damage. “Half the facade of the 15th century church of Sant’Agostino has collapsed, taking with it the beautiful rose window,” Guardian writer Maev Kennedy described. “The courtyard of one of the town’s Renaissance palaces has been turned into a temporary morgue.”
Additional damages span from shattered stained glass windows to fallen frescos; the extent of repair necessary for many medieval churches and basilicas is still unknown. These ornate structures are not easily replaceable. Having been built hundreds, if not thousands of years ago, their structures held timeless memories that have now been destroyed.
As an art enthusiast, this destruction of historical architecture and the ruin of artwork is painful. Although not preserved in a museum, these buildings and works in various media stood as a reminder of Italy’s past; their demolition means the loss of crucial pieces in the country’s historical framework.
This tragedy should resonate with more than just artists, historians and architects. The importance of studying art history lies not only in what it can teach us about the past, but in reflection of the present and as a gaze into the future. The New York Times published an article in 2013 titled “Art Makes You Smart,” which unveiled research proving that visiting an art museum “exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge that with different perspectives on the human condition.”
The Umbria region of Italy may not be a feasible field trip, but the significance of The New York Times article is beyond just visiting a local museum and in the overall benefits of studying art history.
Hopefully we can turn such a tragedy into something positive after all. Perhaps an earthquake that destroyed so many precious artifacts is enough to start a conversation about the importance of historical architecture and the necessity for art appreciation.