While the “Living Heritage” school of archaeology is a recent development within academia, the idea itself is nothing new. The lovely concerts that have been played in the amphitheatre of Taormina since the ’60s for example can be construed as examples of “Living Heritage,” even if they pre-date the controversial concept by a couple of decades.
While the Ph.Ds that expouse the movement might disagree, the concept is quite simple as far as I understand it. Traditional (or Victorian) archaeology aims to maintain and present a site as it was found/unearthed/uncovered and to basically freeze it in time in its “original form” for posterity, much like the static exhibits in museums of old, a la cabinet of curiosities. “Living Heritage” on the other hands holds that there is no such thing as the “original form” of a building, that any human construct is ongoing, evolving, ever-changing.
Much example is made of the Theatre of Marcellus on the banks of the Tiber below the Capitoline. Built as an amphitheatre in Ancient Rome, it became a quarry in the early middle ages, a fortress in the 11th century, the Corsini’s palazzo in Rome during the Renaissance, and people still live in it to this day… living heritage, appunto (lit., just, or exactly). The idea is that its beauty and significance are enhanced because it is continuously being re-interpreted and modified.
Even if the concept is already a few decades old, Rome’s Archaeology Superintendency has recently embraced “Living Heritage” too. For example, a few years ago a couple of Greek tragedies were performed in the Colosseum for small crowds (about a quarter of the original arena was covered with a special stage).
The Superintendency’s recent project has however stirred up quite a debate, even though it will be done with all the latest low-impact materials and techniques and will be reversible. They have decided to replicate, in 21st century style, what was done with the Theatre of Marcellus and to turn some of the greater upper level arches of the Colosseum into what will surely become some of the more sought after real estate, if not on the planet then certainly in Europe.
The 42 greater arches will allow for just as many 600 square foot condos, in which each arch will be enclosed entirely in a single 30 foot wide wall of glass. Given that the greater arches are 120 feet off the ground, this should afford quite the view of downtown Rome.
Work on the Colosseum Condos has already begun and the Mayor’s office is already accepting down payments to secure the 99-year leases, at the cost of one pesce d’aprile each. (lit., April’s fish, aka April fools’.)