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Interview with Arianna Traviglia, Coordinator of the IIT Centre for Cultural Heritage Technology (CCHT)

Publication date: 04.08.2024

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Interview with Arianna Traviglia, Coordinator of the IIT Centre for Cultural Heritage Technology (CCHT)

How can space data be used to have a significant impact on-ground on the management of UNESCO heritage sites in the Veneto Region?

This is the question around which the 2024 edition of VeneTo Stars revolves, the Challenge launched as part of the Veneto Digital Agenda and aimed at young European innovators under 25.

The theme of this challenge, which follows last year’s successful and highly participative edition dedicated to agrifood, enhances the richness of the Veneto region, which boasts no less than nine UNESCO heritage sites.

The Challenge can also count on the support of top-level partners, whom we will be interviewing over the course of the weeks to address the issues related to this edition of VeneTo Stars.

The first interview is with Dr. Arianna Traviglia, Coordinator of the Centre for Cultural Heritage Technology of the Italian Institute of Technology, based in Venice, whose research is dedicated to new technologies for cultural heritage and the inclusion of digital practices within the study and management of cultural heritage.

You have previously stated that ‘Science needs creativity’. What do you expect to find in the projects proposed by young European innovators?

“I hope and expect to find things which surprise me. In my work I use satellite images to detect archaeological sites still underground, clandestine archaeological excavations and archaeological features connected to the landscape. Therefore, I hope to see applications that I never thought of. This is because a lot can be achieved from the integration of satellite data and I trust that young people who participate will be able to come up with new ways of intersecting data and creating new knowledge. I feel hopeful that they will teach me something.”

Entering into the technical aspects of this Challenge, how can space data help in the protection, conservation and enhancement of the UNESCO heritage sites in Veneto? Do you have a specific case to describe from your own experience in this area?

“Apart from the use I make of satellite data, that is, to read landscapes of the past, there are obviously other applications. These include the use of SAR data (Synthetic Aperture Radar, ed.) to observe archaeological sites and cultural structures on the surface. Thanks to this data, we are able to detect whether any alterations are occurring in any buildings, monuments or archaeological parks that could compromise their stability, so as to generate alerts and take countermeasures to protect them. In addition to satellite images, we have the possibility to access other data recorded by satellites, including those which can be gathered from the use of mobile phones. We can, for example, monitor the number of people who are entering to visit a UNESCO site and, again, give alerts for phenomena such as overtourism (tourist overcrowding) or in the event of a sudden event such as an earthquake. We then have all the problems related to hydrogeological risk, which is very high in Italy in comparison to other countries. Satellite data can allow us to view and model the risk and use mapping to better protect cultural sites. Moreover, if we think about the UNESCO site of the Prosecco Hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, there is a fusion of cultural and natural heritage. In so-called ‘hybrid’ sites of this type, satellite data are also very useful for obtaining helpful information on the state of health of the plants found in these territories”.

During the press conference for the presentation of the challenge at the European Parliament in Brussels, President Zaia described this year Challenge’s theme as “captivating”, certainly an important assist in asking why – from his point of view – a young innovator should participate in VeneTo Stars.

“I am happy that President Zaia has expressed this opinion, because we are talking about an area in which there is really a lot to do. Cultural assets are perhaps among the things that unite us Europeans the most and this in my opinion is the main reason. We have been for hundreds of years fragmented into various countries, but the cultural background is very similar because we have had mutual influences. Europe has always been interconnected because of its cultural heritage and its protection is decisive because it concerns all of us and not just a niche. I too find this bringing together of two worlds exciting: satellite data and all the related technology that can help cultural heritage from the past, with the aim of keeping alive for the future the cultural heritage we share with other countries”.