Paradise Gatekeepers. Social Space and Preservation of Italian Heritage in Global Context: The Amalfi Coast Case

Costanza Paolillo, Ph.D.

Over the last two decades, Italy has found itself at the epicenter of global mobility processes – most notably mass migration and mass tourism. Objects and places preserved as cultural heritage, often mobilized in the nation-building process for identity purposes, have increasingly been managed to cater to the needs of tourists rather than locals, redefining uses and destinations of public space.
With an innovative perspective that bridges art history and sociology, I investigate the conflicting interests of global agencies such as UNESCO and ICOM, regional administrators, and local communities in cultural landscape preservation. By measuring the needs and expectations of the people who inhabit a universally relevant landscape, I attempt to answer two fundamental questions: for whom is heritage preserved for? How is mass tourism reshaping social space in Southern Italy today?
In order to explore the interactions between heritage preservation, tourist consumption, and nego-tiation of a sense of place for local communities in contemporary Italy, I analyze the case of the Oscar Niemeyer Auditorium in Ravello. Built in 2008 in the UNESCO protected landscape of the Amalfi Coast, the structure aimed to promote a sophisticated year-round tourism, but faced a significant opposition by both intellectuals and residents. The reactions showed that locals had concerns going further beyond aesthetic issues. The disruption of the landscape’s continuity symbolized a tear in social fabric of the area, where traditional building practices such as dry-stone walling shaped space as much as social exchanges.

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