JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 14 (pp. to )
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 14 (pp. to )




The 1979 earthquake in Montenegro provoked action at different levels. For ICCROM it was the beginning of a more strategic planning response. ICCROM's first initiative was a series of short technical workshops for local specialists and heritage managers, to provide them with management tools for assessing damaged structures and for emergency measures. One useful tool was a format for the assessment of damages and usability of the buildings, including an indication of whether they were listed for protection under national legislation safeguarding cultural heritage. Subsequently, with the support of UNESCO, ICCROM undertook several technical missions to assist local specialists in the management of restoration and reconstruction work, for example, in the area of Kotor. Particular attention was given to historic churches with painted architectural surfaces. The international collaboration included training of specialists on-site, as well as inviting selected professionals to participate in ICCROM's international training programs. One of the principal challenges involved the application of existing structural norms in the consolidation and reinforcement of historic buildings. It was noted that the weakest part of the traditional structures, built of stone, was in the vertical zone marked by the openings; the strongest part was the corners of the buildings. However, the existing norms proposed inserting vertical elements in reinforced concrete at the corners, exactly the areas that should have been preserved intact. Several meetings took place between the local legislative authorities and engineers and ICCROM's experts, including Sir Bernard Feilden, Poul Beckmann, and Patrick Faulkner. The emphasis was put on a survey of existing structures and their consolidation and reinforcement with a full understanding of the behavior of traditional structural systems.

The Skopje seismic institution undertook a research program on the behavior of traditional structures. This research was later continued by Dr. Lazar Sumanov, using a case study in which he analyzed damage to Byzantine churches after an earthquake and suggested methods of consolidation. The research was supported by the Getty Conservation Institute. Similar research projects were undertaken in Italy. ICCROM has continuously kept in contact with these projects, which have clearly shown that traditional structures can resist earthquakes if in good condition. Therefore, systematic inspections to monitor the state of conservation, with a program of regular maintenance, can be the most useful course of action rather than introducing rigid and heavy reinforcement, which may even be counterproductive. What is needed in most cases is minimum intervention in critical areas.

ICCROM, UNESCO, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) were members of the planning commission formed to develop the criteria for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of earthquake-stricken areas in Montenegro. While the main attention of this commission tended toward the construction of new residential areas, efforts were made to guide the restoration and reconstruction of existing areas. Here, serious delays were encountered because of the lack of appropriate documentation of infrastructure. The first issues to take care of were mapping, preparing geotechnical analyses, and making measured drawings of historic buildings. The experience gave clear indications of the importance of planning for the recording and documentation of historic areas as part of the preparedness program. In fact, the many administrative and operational delays made damaged structures even more vulnerable, risking eventual demolition. At the same time, the inhabitants had left the old centers, and had started building their new life in modern areas. As more time passed, it became more difficult to return to the old buildings. One of the issues was to consider the social and cultural values of historic areas, and not to forget that they used to be living neighborhoods with inhabitants and services. If they were abandoned, the risk was that they would become principally converted to tourism areas, with consequences for their function and treatment that could mean a change of character and significance.

The International Course on Preventive Measures for the Protection of Cultural Property in Earthquake-Prone Regions, organized in Skopje in 1985, issued recommendations that included the observation “Every historic building is unique and deserves special studies.” It was thus recommended that:

  1. The structural systems of such historic buildings be respected because they may have already resisted a number of earthquakes;
  2. Any new materials and structures used for repair and strengthening be compatible and durable and that the use of reinforced concrete be restricted;
  3. The degree of protection required be assessed individually, based on the various possibilities of seismic events and the possibility of further strengthening at a future date when better techniques have been developed;
  4. The loss of cultural values be assessed [in relation to] different [types of] seismic effects, involving the formal consideration of alternative projects by engineers, historical architects, archaeologists, and art historians;
  5. The building owners or occupiers be encouraged and instructed to better maintain the existing structural system and fabric;
  6. A thorough documentation and survey of historic buildings in seismic areas be undertaken and a schedule of regular inspections and maintenance be organized;
  7. A microzoning study of seismic risk be undertaken, starting with the most vulnerable historic building sites.