The Blue Helmets of Culture

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Institutional Communication Service

29 November 2021

The Unite4Heritage event took place on 26 October, organised and moderated by Prof. Lorenzo Cantoni, head at USI of the UNESCO chair in ICT, to develop and promote sustainable tourism in World Heritage Sites. During the encounter, Brig. Gen. Roberto Riccardi, Head of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, shared his experience within the UNESCO "Blue Helmets of Culture" project. We took the opportunity to discuss with him some of the issues addressed.

Brig. Gen. Riccardi, in a few words, what are the "Blue Helmets of Culture" and what is their scope?

The Blue Helmets of Culture are an initiative launched in 2016 by Italy together with Unesco. They are Carabinieri from the TPC Command and officials from the Ministry of Culture who intervene, even outside national borders, following conflicts or natural disasters. They catalogue and secure damaged or at-risk assets for subsequent conservation and restoration work. The Task-Force made its debut in central Italy following the seismic events of 2016 (30,000 assets secured) and subsequently operated in Mexico, Albania, Lebanon and Croatia. Since 2003, only the Carabinieri component of the TPC has been active in Iraq, which has entered thousands of objects, mainly archaeological, stolen from museums in that country in its database of stolen works. 

What is the role of education in the protection of cultural heritage?

Education is fundamental because many crimes occur also because of a partial knowledge of the sector's regulations, due to a reduced awareness of the illegality of certain purchases. Awareness raising, which the TPC Command carries out with a significant expenditure of resources, is also important because, if well informed, all citizens can play a role in defending treasures that belong to the community. This is another reason why I particularly appreciated the invitation to discuss our topics in the prestigious venue of the Università della Svizzera italiana, because it allowed me to reach an interested and sensitive target group.

What are the future challenges for the protection of cultural assets worldwide?

The challenge is to combat trafficking that makes use of the latest technologies and is increasingly taking place on virtual platforms that are not easy to identify, as well as increasingly advanced counterfeiting and clandestine excavation. In order to deal with this in the best possible way, we are also updating our knowledge, for example with the use of images captured with the aid of satellites or drones, or with the development of our database software, which we are directing towards an automatic search and comparison of images taken from every area of the network. The latter is our most effective investigative tool, possessing an archive of some 8 million files, of which 1,300,000 refer to works still to be researched.      

You can review the Unite4Heritage event: Cultural Heritage in Conflict, Stolen and Contested via the following link. 

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