Remembering Riccardo Francovich

Rocca San Silvestro, Tuscany.

Ten years since my friend, Riccardo Francovich died in an accident. His students with funds largely from our nEU-MED project, created a travelling exhibition that opened in Siena University to mark this anniversary. Now, during August, it is at the most remarkable of all his many excavations, the Pisan mining village of Rocca San Silvestro.

At an inauguration ceremony this evening the conical village is truly resplendent. The outer fortification wall shines in the evening sun, and above it, rising in tiers, are many miners’s houses as well as a chapel and the protruding little rocca – a tower.

It looked nothing like this when I first came here with Riccardo in 1981. Then, it was enclosed in low trees, a home to wild boar. Over ten years Riccardo made it first into a great excavated site and then into an archaeological park, with trails through this westernmost flank of the Colline Metallifere. Opened as a mining park in 1996, the deserted medieval village is attracting increasing visitors. Thirty-five thousand so far this year.

With its attention to the combination of mines, raw nature and archaeology, the park design by the landscape architect, Jamie Buchanan, has become a model for many. Today, there are active displays by an iron forger, aided by experimental kilns for copper, lead and iron. You can see a reconstructed early medieval mortar mixer, and best of all – discretely located close to the little arena for talks, is a reconstructed peasant’s house. Inside it was cool compared to the temperature in the high thirties outside.

Riccardo Francovich was a placemaker. He brought the past into the present. As the Assessore of Cultura for Campiglia Marittima said, every generations needs a Riccardo – someone who breaks the mould with energy, passion and vision.

After a fresh round of conservation, on this sweltering evening, the fifty-plus celebrants could sense the magic of Rocca San Silvestro. There is no better tribute to this much missed archaeologist and teacher. This exhibition helps to recall how extraordinary he was.

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