A green worksite at the Colosseum: the restoration of the Basilica Aemilia’s architectural elements

The Basilica Aemilia, built in 179 BC by the censors Marcus Fulvius Nobilior and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, is the only one of the three Republican basilicas in the Roman Forum with some of its aboveground structures still intact. The original building was renovated and expanded on several occasions by the members of the family after which it was named: the projects commissioned by Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, future triumvir, and Lucius Aemilius Paullus are worth mentioning, undertaken in 78 BC and 55 BC respectively. The latter project included the frieze, still visible today, that depicts scenes from the mythical history of Rome. After the original basilica was destroyed by a fire in 14 BC, Augustus saw to rebuilding it, and it is to the Augustan reconstruction that most of the remaining decorated architectural elements can be dated. In the previous century, the remains of these architectural elements were gathered together on the basilica’s northern side together with models of part of the frieze, forming a sort of “exhibition” that has characterized the Roman Forum landscape for the past 100 years. To preserve all of these important pieces, which in turn constitute an important restoration campaign of decades past, a new type of project was drawn up, focusing on eco-sustainability and the complementary relationship between conservation and restoration.

 

One of this project’s novel approaches is the installation of a “pilot worksite”, the mission of which is the systematic acquisition of cutting-edge technology, to ensure that every phase of the restoration process is carried out using green methodologies compatible with the materials present at the PArCo and the ways in which the site is used.

 

Although pandemic-related events have temporarily put the project on hold, we were able to carry out initial tests on the monument in early March 2021 using a next-generation product. Under the coordination of Fiorangela Fazio, PArCo staff member, and with the collaboration of Tecnoel S.r.L., who have provided us with an innovative new formula developed by the company Brenta s.r.l, this first intervention harnessed the action of enzymes present in a nanoparticle matrix. These enzymes are proteins and lipids with the natural capability to break down organic molecules. Their use enables restorers to be highly selective in removing both biological patinas and the now-deteriorated patinas that are the result of former restoration interventions to monuments. In addition to this method’s high-precision selectivity when cleaning monuments, another great advantage is the reduction in risks brought on by the toxic products normally used in these cases: the enzymes’ activity does not produce toxic fumes or other waste products. In the long term, there is reason to hope that a systematic usage of methods like this one, for example as part of routine maintenance plans, would significantly lessen the reliance on traditional restoration interventions, which can be both invasive and costly. Although the great potential of enzymes in restoration work has been proven by the scientific world for quite some time, their systematic use is still far-off for many reasons, not the least of which are economic concerns.

 

As a public institution, we aim to increase our knowledge and practical experience in working with these technologies, for a future with greater awareness of low-impact methods awarded to potential suppliers through tendering processes. Undertaking these activities in such a visible place as the Parco archeologico del Colosseo makes us a model for a process of assuming greater environmental responsibility. We hope that our example can contribute to give a greater boost to research, to the market and to professional qualification in this field.