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Presentation of Prof. Giovanni Puglisi

Italy is an inexhaustible source of man's heritage, almost despite UNESCO's efforts. It has such a wealth of artistic/historical and cultural/natural landscape heritage that it can never be fully registered in the UN Lists of culture, education and science, without the risk of creating objective and insurmountable problems of international importance. Yet the richness is there for all to see and forms the “added value” that makes Italy so internationally important, giving it a greater role and prestige around the world. Italy has many places of natural beauty and cities of art that - whether independent of each other or an unparalleled combination, a synolon - make up this "Italian treasure", but some of these are absolutely unique. One of these is without a doubt Venice: the history of the city, its historical/artistic heritage, landscape and environment give it its unicum that, from all points of view, has made it so famous and unique in the world. 

As a result, Venice was the first city in the world to benefit from a worldwide UNESCO appeal for the restoration of its damaged monuments promoted by the then Director General, René Maheu, back in 1966 when the lagoon city was hit by a disastrous flood, and long before it was included in the list UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987. This led to the Private International Committees, still in existence today (and endorsed by the UNESCO-BRESCE Office in Venice) - who were set up and still operate in order to gather additional resources for the preservation of this wonderful heritage, integrating the regular efforts made by the Italian State and local institutions. It is worth recalling that Florence experienced a similar fate. In 1966 the River Arno flowing through Florence - another beautiful example of “Italian Treasure” - flooded the city. From all over the world, young and old flocked to Florence to save and protect from the devastating fury of the flood waters the many unique works of art and libraries within the city. Again, this happened before Florence was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1982 and, like Venice, before the Paris Convention was signed that defines the essential points for the identification and protection of "World Heritage" in 1972.

Venice has, however, even more special features: its lagoon, its unique hybrid balance of nature and urban settlement, a combination of land and sea, its symbiosis of land and marine lifestyles, unique to Venetians. Aspects that have always been both a major tourist attraction and the cultural heritage of the city. Incisive and sometimes invasive qualities that have formed its biological and urban morphology. Unfortunately, man's interventions to change the biological life of the lagoon have not always been orthodox, often ending up by creating more environmental damage than benefits for man.

Awareness of this intrusion and the often highly visible harm caused led UNESCO to introduce in 1990 a project (through its Venice Office for Science and Culture - BRESCE today, then ROSTE - when directed by a French marine biologist, Pierre Lasserre, together with the Italian Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Technology, MURST) that deals with the ecosystem of the Venetian lagoon and the negative consequences for the foundations of the buildings submerged in the lagoon. The project was a great success, supported by the appreciation and collaboration of various major international academic and scientific institutions and several countries, such as France, Britain, the United States of America (at the time not yet a member of UNESCO), the Netherlands, Australia and Korea, plus participation of Italian, Swiss, Hungarian and Danish Universities and Research Centers in the scientific activities.

Research has continued and now the protection, enhancing and environmentally sound and sustainable development of Venice are on the agenda of various national and international institutions, even if the perfect solution has yet to be found and, of course, put into action. Today, Venice is more than ever before a dream destination for millions of tourists (affluent and less so, educated and uncultured alike), thanks also to UNESCO and its strong ability to attract and communicate. People in search of making their fortune, culture, wealth, dreams and beauty. None of whom have, however, wondered or known whether their dream/wish to visit Venice is compatible with the efforts being made to preserve such a priceless and irreproducible heritage as this lagoon city. A city that's now risking being "drowned" in a sea of people, albeit motivated by their love for all that's beautiful and a dream.

This rich blend of natural and man-made beauty, this magical combination of land and water, of dreams and reality, of secular urban stability and the instability of the marine ecosystem have inspired one of the research projects proposed at the UNESCO International Conference, held in Cairo, in February 2002. An opportunity to encourage initiatives aimed at stimulating awareness of world heritage, adopting the right approach, i.e. sustainable development of the land where people live and with full awareness of the need to protect something that history has handed down to us and which we must preserve for future generations.

This DVD is a response to this somewhat implicit invitation by UNESCO in 2002 to provide suitable and useful material for teachers at UNESCO Associated Schools (some 8,000 around the world!). Material to allow them to teach and people to learn about and understand the characteristics identified by UNESCO for proper conservation of World Heritage Sites. To guarantee their existence for future generations, yet with a view to sustainable development. It is worth remem-bering, at this point, that we are in the heart of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) entrusted to UNESCO. The goal: to give an everyday slant on this dimension of contemporary life and civilization perspective, for it to be accessible and acceptable for all. Italy, through its National Commission for UNESCO, is very committed to this.

The idea of this DVD sprung from this fertile terrain. The Aliusmodi Cultural Association, in the person of its President, Cecilia Preziuso (teacher by profession and vocation, the coordinator for the Italian Network of UNESCO Associated Schools and member of Italy's National Commission for UNESCO), has, with all due merit, undertaken the task. It has conceived the project and the method for approaching this delicate subject, as well as funding its production.

However, only future generations will know and be able to say whether or not this ambitious project has paid off. This work is dedicated to future generations, with the love and commitment of those who make beauty and freedom the standard and criterion for their actions and life. In short, this tough decision is left to posterity.

Prof. Giovanni Puglisi
President Italian National Commission for UNESCO


Venice and its lagoons

World Heritage, a dialogue between cultures: which future?

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