Documenting heritage forever – preserving our history forever

Scheme of the Service >>

In 48 BCE, Julius Caesar ordered the burning of the library at Alexandria. Documents recording human development disappeared in the flames. Girolamo Savonarola burned Botticelli’s paintings and Bishop Tomaž Hren from Ljubljana destroyed Slovenian Protestant books in the same way. Neither Valvasor’s documents nor the library in Carniola could be purchased. Heine was horrified to, first, see German books destroyed and, then, people burned at the stake. The Slovenian word was destroyed by Italian and other occupying forces. A plane crashed on the National and University Library’s reading room during the Second World War and rare books were lost. Archives were without good care after the Second World War. Centuries ago, it was Alexandria; yesterday, it was Timbuktu where they destroyed old documents. People endanger our memory and documents which can bring rebirth to destroyed Warsaw, Coventry or Kostanjevica na Dolenjskem.

A similar fate could have befallen the documentation and library which were enthusiastically collected by France Stelè as early as 1913. Later on, the collection may have been further classified or organized through the assistance of his wife, Melita Pivec, who was a trained librarian. The documentation was transferred from their home to the National Museum and, then, to the National Gallery, but along the way, also found a resting place in a potato cellar at the Ursuline Monastery. Some wanted to distribute the material between different government offices. Director of the Institute Stane Mrvič and his colleagues succeeded in finding space for cultural heritage documentation and offices for its guardians in the museum quarter of the new country, on Metelkova Street. Thus the headquarters for the INDOK Centre of the Directorate for Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture got equal status as other institutions. Paper, which appears sensitive, glass photographic plates, celluloid tapes and computer records from the new millennium are often stronger than the wood, stone and bricks that make our homes, castles and churches. They can even be more durable than the bronze of our monuments. They remain rare, these unique or complementary records; these descriptions of walls, equipment and creative people.

In the hundred years of protecting immovable cultural heritage in Slovenia, the premises were and opened and dedicated on the ninetieth anniversary of cultural heritage protection, with 100 linear metres of shelved conventional archives, 96.000 negatives, 64.000 positives, 17.000 slides, 10.440 technical plans, drawings, watercolour paintings etc. Specialists in different fields have developed the Cultural Heritage Register on the basis of record sheets used by conservators making new field surveys. The Register contains almost 30.000 units, which can be viewed and studied and are accessible to anyone with a home computer. The library has developed into the country’s central institution in the field of cultural heritage protection. Currently, it has 11.700 volumes of journals and 16.850 monographs. For the current exhibition, the authors selected representative documents, photographs and books which show the course of changes from the Central Commission to the new millennium. The role of three important conservators: Stelè, Ivan Komelj and Marijan Zadnikar, and the former Kostanjevica Monastery is particularly emphasised.

With each document, this exhibition is a tribute to all the well-known and lesser-known heroes who over the course of a hundred years provided for the preservation of the nation’s essence, the space and buildings within it, the objects and spirit of the space. The value of what we treasure is reflected in stories, poems or printed books and documents. This modest selection is merely a very small portion of what is available to all who are curious, including the owners of the heritage and scientists. The material is a reminder that we have not done enough to appreciate the role of conservators, to understand our history and its inner significance rather than external, sometimes hollow and repeated symbols, such as coat of arms. In Slovenia, it is not possible to open one’s eyes and not see a castle above a city, a church on a hill, a hayrack in a meadow. The real significance is in the intangible heritage, in knowledge and will of a mason who built the wall, the carpenter who made the roof, the carver and the painter and the thousands of anonymous people who made and have maintained our diverse culture.

We should reflect on the never-ending path of heritage. Its future is open; it is a challenge for new generations of its creators and preservers. A cultural attitude to heritage is a cultural attitude to people.

Gojko Zupan