Restoration of damaged architectural stone monuments by war
Restoration of damaged architectural stone monuments by war

All artisans that work with stone may feel privileged and especially selected because they bequeath art works of real values and beauty. These works last long and with duration they become more valuable and more precious.

The same happened with me when introduced to that magic of stone. I was fascinated and enriched by perception of this incredible material, its character and sensitivity. As an employee of the Institute for Restoration of Dubrovnik I was so lucky to get a chance of training on stone in Venice. Many international experts on stone were my professors on the Stone Conservation Course, organized and sponsored by UNESCO in that wonderful Italian town made of hundreds' different kinds of stone, marble etc. It was in the distant 1989 when my study was such a pleasure as my knowledge could have contributed on restoration of our cultural heritage upon my return back to Dubrovnik. We studied about the problems on numerous stone monuments all around Italy and it was a precious experience where I learned so much about stone, its liveliness, beauty, importance and richness in an artistic work. Many of the stone characteristics which, I had not known were discovered to me, from the quarry where it was dug up from, its preparation for creation, pliancy or resistance to its master's tool and its vulnerability to chemical or biological agents. I saw numerous successful and some wrong interventions of restorers who care about stone monuments' decay and try to maintain their life.

After my return to Dubrovnik, I was watching all that refinement of stone with different eyes. I was really proud to recognize its very good state in spite of such a long age. The eruption of its beauty, the skill of its creators' hand and patina of centuries provoked my admiration and curiosity again and again. I thought how lucky we had been to have such a wonderful City, made of stone that was not yet eroded by dirt and pollution like many valuable stone monuments around the world.

And then the war happened...

Our stone monuments suffered horrible damages from the destructive hand of Vandals. They could not endure such a richness and brightness of the stone City of Dubrovnik because it was too hard to view and to understand. Their primitivism and ignorance forced them, therefore, to destroy it with all their force and vandalism.

Witnessing the City when shelled and the stone yelling with pain was a nightmare that lasted too long. All of us residents felt the same. Something had to be done and urgently.

As a UNESCO's student I was appointed the Head of restoration department in the Institute for Restoration of Dubrovnik soon after the Homeland war broke out. Potential donors started calling for help and we could not wait. Just in these years, 1991 and 1992, when enormous destruction was around and it was really hard and dangerous, huge quantities of energy were also gushing up to undertake something in spite of a heavy bombardment.

It was necessary to elaborate an estimate of damages on the historic heritage and financial needs in written form to witness what a human can do when possessing destructive weapons. A proper book was made i.e. an extensive study book with estimate of costs on the damaged monuments. There were individuals and companies around the world that wished to help in restoration. UNESCO people were also involved in the action and their representatives came to Dubrovnik to view the disaster on the spot. The study book was the first written document about the state of the damaged legacy. It comprehended a photo of each damaged monument with description, evaluation of damages and costs of restoration. Though it was not as precise in every case, as the data for the book were collected in difficult conditions, sometimes between shelling, without electricity and with amateur camera, our small team did its best to show to the world the state of most damaged monuments of the UNESCO city. The book contained about thirty heavily damaged monuments inside the city walls and it served the purpose for the future interventions. In the same time an Expert Commission was formed in the Institute for Restoration of Dubrovnik which consisted of international UNESCO experts (Italy, France, Germany and Austria) as well as Croatian specialists, who came to Dubrovnik to help with their knowledge and experience. That was an opportunity to establish a set of rules about the methodology of future restoration works on architectural stone monuments. The Commission met regularly in Dubrovnik in spite of sometimes very dangerous circumstances, to discuss and agree about the treatments that were planned to be performed on the damaged monuments as soon as possible.

It was decided to perform restoration activities using the original stone from the nearby localities with application of several accepted methods or principles of restoration like:

(a) 'Facsimile' method, when there is enough evidence for the reconstruction of a damaged part.

(b) Inserting new pieces of stone on the missing or damaged parts of an entirety by taking out those damaged ones (used on stairs, capitals, pavements, shop windows and doors' lintels etc.).

(c) Reversible re-modelling the delicate stone ornaments by usage of fine pasta made of a finely ground original stone powder with addition of additives and adequate pigments. The proportions of each ingredient were precisely defined and controlled by competent conservators.

It was necessary to use traditional methods of manual dressing of stone using old hand tools that had almost disappeared. The abandoned stone-masons' workshops had to be activated around the town. The Commission also specified special rules to be obeyed about each monument's method of restoration and largeness of intervention before the work started and after a detailed documentation and architectural survey of the monument. The professional supervision had to be done during the whole restoration treatment and a detailed review of the completed work 'in situ' by the Commission members to find out if the rules had been obeyed.

In some cases when meeting in front of a damaged monument it was decided not to intervene at all as the damaged parts though, numerous, did not endanger the legibility of a monument i.e. its stylistic characteristics. Therefore there are thousands of smaller 'wounds' on the faces of our monuments to witness a horrible time but also not to forget it.

It was necessary to study archival data about the stone's origin of each monument if we were lucky enough to have it noted a few centuries ago. Even more demanding was to find the genuine stone our monuments were made of, which was excavated mainly on the islands Vrnik, Kamenjak and Badija near Korčula, besides the building stone taken from the nearby quarries in the surroundings. Unfortunately the quarries on those islands have mostly been abandoned and that was an additional problem for our future supplies. This stone from the archipelago of Korčula is a kind of sedimentary limestone of extraordinary quality and whiteness and two types dominate; 'fiorito' or 'pigavac' and 'unito' or 'saldi'. The type 'fiorito' has many small holes and shell remains as well as other sea organisms and comes from the upper layers of the quarry while 'unito' is more compact, whiter and much more pliable and softer for chiselling. It is dug out from the lower layers of the quarry and used for delicate ornaments, sculptural, floral and other decorative details of the churches' facades, palaces and fountains. It was so difficult to obtain the stone due to closed and abandoned quarries and the substitutions were not allowed if it was a slight chance to provide the original one. These facts make our plans for restoration even more difficult but they did not stop our strong wish to curry them out.

The replacement by a very similar high-quality limestone from the island Brač was acceptable only in case when there was no possibility to get larger blocks of stone from Korčula. An example was a part of the Amerling's fountain from the Gundulić's square where the fountain's shell was severely damaged, almost destroyed and a new one was to be carved. It required a large block of stone and we could get a supply from Brač where the quarries are very active. The type of stone is called 'Veselje – Kupinovo' and its consistence, colour and quality fulfils the aforesaid strict regulations. An additional inspection for its quality was done by an UNESCO expert form France, Mr. Jean Martin who visited the island Brač and the quarries there to see at first hand about the stone and to give his opinion.

My numerous visits to the islands around Korčula and Brač during the wartime were of enormous benefit as I learned so much from the islanders in regard to stone and its use. I noted all details that might have possible be of use. Their stone-carvers gave me many advices and shared their precious experience of knowledge and mastering the stone. Some of them were selected to work on the restoration of the cultural heritage of Dubrovnik like their ancestors did a long time ago. We had also a great help from the Stone-carving school in Pučišće at the island Brač which I visited during the heavy bombardment of Dubrovnik and became one of their permanent associate till today in lecturing and publishing articles in their professional magazine. Their stone-carvers and sculptors were also engaged on restoration of the damaged monuments in Dubrovnik.

Though risky and dangerous, many photos of damages were shot already between the shelling. That's why they became so precious and valuable and used later on in many occasions. Along with photo documentation researches of available sources in the archives were our beginnings. The works on restoration started in the early post-war years. It was mainly on the monuments in the City what means 'in situ' while some parts of damaged architectural ornaments were taken to the workshops in Korčula and Brač. The monuments to be restored were chosen by their donors what was highly respected. We started to work on hundreds of metres of damaged roof canals for collecting the rainy water into the water wells. Then the restoration continued on the Renaissance well-head in the cloister of St.Klara, the facade and the staircase of the church of St.Blaise, the chapel Đorđić Mayneri, Stradun, well-known staircase Uz Jezuite and the Amerling's fountain. Restoration works on some of chosen monuments were done by the professionals from Poland and France in the name of grants. Some restoration works were financed by the friends of Dubrovnik from Great Britain, USA, Germany, Italy, Scotland and many more. These works were done by local stone-carvers and sculptors and it lasted for several years.

In the time I was also engaged in the Association of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities as a volunteer and I took care of restoration of the damaged Large Onofrio's fountain, Rendić's fountain "Stojna and Satyr" at Pile, the Renaissance stone vessel locally called "đara", placed at the entrance of the Crijević-Pucić's summer residence at Pile, the damaged Gothic arch above the entrance to the old harbour Vrata Ribarnice, the stone Gothis statue of St.Blaise above the entrance of the gate Vrata Ribarnice and many more minor interventions around the town.

After the first and then every next completed restoration work, we took into consideration the level of recognition of the restored parts and the whiteness of new stone that was replaced on the damaged spots of the monuments. There were various proposals for patination of repairs but at the end we decided not to tone in with the original and to leave them as they are i.e. to let time do its part on patinating or weathering, refusing all proposed visual aids of oblivion.

Since every stone hides its history and particularly after the disastrous times of barbaric war, it is necessary to safeguard it and to share its beauty with the whole world. We are not the guard of the City – Museum. Dubrovnik requires more. It should be of prime importance.

Today when I walk along the City walls and view its aged monuments alive again in their ambiance, some already weathered and adjusted in colour, new with old one, some still a little different as patina has not yet hidden necessary interventions, I feel satisfied to be able to contribute to their preservation and the continuation of their lives with us. I am also deeply grateful to all those generous people, friends of world's cultural heritage, who had truly recognized it and helped to safeguard this unique City together.

Kate Bagoje, prof.