On 3rd and 4th November 1966 a huge flood of water engulfed Venice, dramatically highlighting the fragility of the ancient centre and the surrounding lagoon. For long hours this abnormally high tide failed to recede and paralyzed the city, leaving large parts without telephone lines, electricity, water or transport; ground floor homes and shops were devastated and many monumental buildings and their contents were seriously damaged.
Within days UNESCO launched an urgent appeal to the international community to provide support and tangible help to the authorities charged with protecting the city. Switzerland was amongst the many countries that offered immediate assistance; the Federal Council (the government of Switzerland) set up our Foundation for the purpose and called on the public to donate the resources needed to ensure a swift response.
It soon became clear, however, that the emergency was not confined to the effects of the extraordinary flood. Venice needed, and continues to need, constant support. The safeguarding of its immense artistic and cultural heritage requires funds and energy that far exceed the resources the city itself can hope to provide. Luckily, as Alvise Zorzi, the dedicated and authoritative Venetian historian asserts, “the love inspired by this truly unique city speaks of much more than gondolas and serenades; no other myth arouses such dynamic and resolute passion”. And indeed, the commitment shown by the countries that rushed to Venice’s aid after 1966 has not slackened with the passing decades. Our Foundation too has continued with undiminished enthusiasm to carry out its statutory task and at the same time to give our work a distinctive slant.
In our choice of restoration project we always try to highlight and reinforce the cultural relationship between Switzerland and Italy and to reinforce the ancient ties that link our nations by focusing mainly on the work of Swiss architects and artists in Venice or on creations that have some other connection with the Confederation. It is well known that as early as the XV century there were many Swiss building trade workers in Venice (specialists in stuccoing and stone-cutting and sculptors who came mainly from the regions around the lakes to the south of the Alps) drawn by the many opportunities for work offered by wealthy citizens who were anxious to draw attention to their position by commissioning the remodelling or renovation of public and private, civil and religious buildings, or invited by the Serenissima itself. These groups of simple craftsmen developed in time to include skilled architects and experts whose work enriched the Venetian heritage from the 1400s until well into the 1700s.
We also pay considerable attention to promoting and encouraging appreciation of the items restored (through publications of a scientific and historical nature in the more important cases). And we take every opportunity to underline the importance of maintenance, especially in a city which is prone to rapid decay processes, like Venice; the Foundation organized a conference on the subject in the Doge’s Palace in the autumn of 2007. Another way in which we demonstrated our commitment to the principle of maintenance was in the case of the façade of the Church of S.Maria del Giglio, where the Foundation not only financed the restoration and a publication but also the cost of checking and maintaining the anti-pigeon system, the proper functioning of which is fundamental to the conservation of the restored façade.
Another thing we are proud to remember is the opportunity we arranged for trainee students to take an active part in restoring the main entrance to the Church of the Carmini, an initiative that led too to an international collaboration between the Istituto Veneto per i Beni Culturali (IVBC) and the Scuola Professionale Universitaria della Svizzera Italiana (SUPSI), in which Swiss and Italian students were able to work side by side at the site.
The proactive commitment of the Swiss Government and the dedicated response of our Foundation in pursuing its aims have been recognized by important awards in both Italy and Switzerland: the Torta Prize conferred by the Ateneo Veneto in 1980 and the 1976 Fondazione del Centenario Prize of the Banca della Svizzera Italiana.
To learn more about the Swiss Award, visit Fondazione del Centenario.
Click on the image below to view or download the publication "Premio Pietro Torta per il restauro di Venezia 1980" - Ateneo Veneto in the pdf version.