Luigi Bernab˛ Brea – Biographical Profile

by Madeleine Cavalier

From the start of his career down to 1973

Luigi Bernab˛ Brea e sua nipote MariaLuigi Bernab˛ Brea, born in Genoa on 27 September 1910, completed his education in that city, where he graduated in Jurisprudence in 1932. Subsequently, in pursuit of his own vocation, he matriculated in the University of Rome and graduated in Archaeology in 1935, under Prof. G.Q. Giglioli. He was a pupil of the Scuola Archeologica Italiana in Athens, then directed by Alessandro Della Seta, in the biennial periods 1935/36 and 1936/37, participating in the excavations on the island of Lemnos, at Poliochni (in 1936) and the Kabirion of Chloi on Lemnos (in 1937), which he himself had discovered.

On entering the Administration of the AntichitÓ e Belle Arti dello Stato, he was appointed inspector of the Museo Nazionale at Taranto, directed by Ciro Drago, in October 1938, and in this role participated among other things in the excavations of Gnathia.

In June 1939 he was called to establish and direct the newly created Soprintendenza alle AntichitÓ della Liguria. He was also appointed by the comune of Genoa to the post of Director of the Museo Civico di Archeologia Ligure di Genova-Pegli, a post he retained down to 1951, first making provision for the museum's evacuation in response to the dangers of war, and then its re-organization go to the top of the page

The archaeological activity conducted in the field by Luigi Bernab˛ Brea in Liguria, apart from minor excavations conducted in the Iron Age burial site at Rossiglione and at Castelliere di Pignone, especially consisted of his excavations in the Arene Candide cave at Finale Ligure, which revealed a stratigraphic sequence of fundamental importance, especially for our knowledge of the Neolithic and Upper Palaeolithic. These excavations, conducted in collaboration with Luigi Cardini of the Istituto Italiano di Paleontologia Umana, were continued down to 1951. Bernab˛ Brea published a report on the strata and pottery that fell within his direct competence in two volumes between 1946 and 1956.

At the end of 1941 Luigi Bernab˛ Brea was transferred to Syracuse, to the Soprintendenza alle AntichitÓ della Sicilia Orientale, which he directed for 32 years until his retirement in 1973, dedicating to it the greater part of his life as a scholar and administrator.

Having arriving in his new job in the middle of the war, his first task was to complete the evacuation of the Museum in Syracuse, already in large part implemented by his predecessor G. Cultrera. His first scientific task was the study of the monuments of ancient Akrai, later published in 1956.

Once the war had ended, Bernab˛ Brea immediately dedicated himself to repairing and restoring the monuments devastated in the war and re-organizing the Museum of Syracuse in its new seat in the Piazza Duomo, partially reopening it in 1947 and totally in 1949. At the same time he was also able to begin his first activities in the field, especially aimed at the exploration of the regions most distant from the headquarters of the Soprintendenza and those archaeologically least known, such as the province of Enna (prehistoric cemeteries of Calascibetta) and the Tyrrhenian zone of the province of Messina (Milazzo, Longane, San Basilio di Novara, Tindari, Alaesa). His first surveys in the Aeolian Islands and excavations at Piano Quartara and the village of Milazzese on Panarea took place between 1947 and 1950.

The re-organization of the prehistoric materials mainly excavated in their time by P. Orsi and I. and C. Cafici, undertaken in view of the Museum's new display, led him among other things to the identification of some deposits of the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic, not hitherto recognized, in some of which, such as Grotta Corruggi, he was able to conduct trial excavations. More especially, however, the reordering of the Museum's artefacts permitted him to lay the foundations for a total reconsideration of the succession of prehistoric and protohistoric cultures in Sicily, also formulated on the basis of new explorations in the field, notably in the Aeolian Isles. The most complete formulation of this succession was later published in his book Sicily before the Greeks in 1957.

Despite his intensive Sicilian activity, Luigi Bernab˛ Brea also resumed, after the interruption of the war, his excavations in the Arene Candide cave between 1948 and 1950. A study trip to southern France and Spain in 1948, after the long closure of the frontiers caused by the war, provided him with the opportunity to amplify the coordinates of the cultural development of the Western Mediterranean that he was in the process of defining go to the top of the page

In 1951 Luigi Bernab˛ Brea was commissioned by the Scuola Archeologica Italiana in Athens, directed by Doro Levi, to resume the excavations of the Bronze Age settlement site at Poliochni on the island of Lemnos. This campaign then led to the publication of the earlier excavations conducted by the School on the site between 1930 and 1936. The new excavations at Poliochni, conducted in 1951 and in 1956, permitted him to identify the sequence of cultural phases since the origins of the settlement. A particularly fortunate event was the discovery of a treasure of gold jewellery in 1956; it is roughly of the same date as and has close affinities with the great treasure of jewellery found at Troy.

The mission on the island of Lemnos ended in 1961 with two important events: the inauguration of the Museum of Myrina in 1961, in which were gathered the finds from Poliochni and those yielded by the excavations of Efestia, the Kabirion of Chloi, Myrina itself, and those on the islands of Imbros and Tenedos; and the publication of two important reports of the excavations in 1969 and 1976.

It is impossible to sum up briefly the intensive archaeological activity performed by Luigi Bernab˛ Brea from the end of the war to 1973, as head of the Soprintendenza alle AntichitÓ della Sicilia Orientale, in the five provinces that fell under his jurisdiction. His various activities covered the safeguard, conservation and restoration of archaeological monuments, field exploration, excavation, the creation of organized archaeological zones, of the antiquaria relating to them, and the setting up of local museums.

It should not be forgotten, in fact, that these years were also marked by a formidable expansion of building and industrial development in Sicily which Bernab˛ Brea had to counter, in defence of the archaeological heritage. His struggle to defend that heritage was unremitting and uncompromising. At the same time the difficult administration of the huge sums that the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno, in particular, was then investing in the cultural field put to the test his remarkable administrative gifts. Thanks to his commitment, many restorations and reconstructions of monuments were carried out, and archaeological parks established; they attest to an unconventional approach, though with absolute respect for the monuments in question, and a remarkable attention to the legitimate needs of the public. It is enough to recall in this regard, the setting up of the "Parco della Neapolis" at Syracuse comprising the main classical monuments of the city, from the Greek Theatre to the ancient quarries of Latomia; the restoration of the Theatre of Taormina; the excavation and restoration of the Roman city of Tyndaris; that of the great Roman villa at Piazza Armerina; and the reorganization of the antiquities of Akrai.

Given the impossibility of personally following the scientific research on the too vast territory covered by the Soprintendenza, while maintaining in his role as Soprintendente responsibility for and surveillance of all the activities taking place, he delegated a number of important tasks to his assistants, including Gino Vinicio Gentile, Paola Pelagatti, Giuseppe Voza and the present writer. He also encouraged collaboration with foreign Institutes, such as the Ecole Franšaise in Rome which had begun at this time its excavations at the Greek site of Megara Hyblaea, those of the University of Princeton at Morgantina and many more go to the top of the page

Among the innumerable archaeological digs conducted by the Soprintendenza during these years, we may record here the main ones in the prehistoric field:

  • in the province of Messina, the excavations of the Riparo della Sperlinga, of the settlement sites of Tripi, Tindari, Longane, Monte Scurzi and Naxos, of the burial site of Rodi, of the villages of Milazzese at Panarea, Capo Graziano, Filo Braccio, Casa Lopez at Filicudi, Serro dei Cianfi and La Portella at Salina, Castellaro Vecchio, Piano Conte, Diana and Castello at Lipari, and the cemeteries of Piazza Monfalcone at Lipari and Milazzo;
  • in the province of Enna, the excavations of the burial sites of Malpasso, Realmese, Calcarella and Valle Coniglio at Calascibetta;
  • in the province of Catania, the excavations of the caves of Novalucello, Pellegriti, Pietralunga and Maccarone, of the "Sapienza" burial site, of the settlements of the contrade Zorio, Marotta, Naviccia, the village of Predio Garofalo, the huts of Poggio dell'Aquila at Adrano, the settlements of PalikŔ, the necropolis Luigi Bernab˛ Brea e sua nipote Mariaof Grammichele, the trial digs on the acropolis of Paterno and the finds at Biancavilla;
  • in the province of Syracuse, the excavations of the huts of Metapiccola and the tombs of the Valle di S. Eligio at Lentini, the villages of Stentinello and Ognina, the caves of Conzo, Chiusazza, Genovese, Palombara, Masella di Buscemi, and Calafarina at Pachino, the necropolis of Thapsos, that of Pantalica and the restoration of the Anaktoron.

For his part, Luigi Bernab˛ Brea concentrated his own interests as a scholar especially on the Aeolian Isles and the zones close to the province of Messina (Milazzo, Tyndaris) where he was able to avail himself of my assistance since 1951, when I established myself on Lipari, and began, and ensured the continuity and systematic conduct of, the exploration of the island, which has been pursued uninterruptedly since then.

Luigi Bernab˛ Brea's career from 1973 to 1999

Luigi Bernab˛ Brea e sua nipote MariaEver since he officially retired from his post in January 1973, Luigi Bernab˛ Brea dedicated himself almost entirely to the Aeolian Isles and the Museum of Lipari.

Due to a series of favourable circumstances, the excavations on the Aeolian Isles were particularly fortunate. At Lipari, as far as prehistory is concerned, excavations on the Castello and the plain below it produced a complete and undisturbed stratigraphic sequence. This permitted Bernab˛ Brea to reconstruct the cultural evolution of the island from the onset of the middle Neolithic to the historical era. His reconstruction represents to this day the paradigm for the cultural evolution also of Sicily and Southern Italy.

The minor sites of Lipari and the settlements of Filicudi, Panarea and Salina provided extremely important confirmations of and complements to the cultural sequence defined on the basis of the stratigraphy revealed by the excavations on the site of the Castello of Lipari go to the top of the page

Luigi Bernab˛ Brea e sua nipote MariaAs a result of the same geological phenomenon that had given rise to the exceptional stratigraphy of the prehistoric site of the Castello, the huge necropolis of Cnidian Lipßra has also survived virtually intact. It continued to develop, without interruption, right down to the Late Roman period. Extending over the Contrada Diana, it was buried under metres of volcanic sediments, laid down by successive eruptions; it is unique among the great contemporary cemeteries of Sicily, Magna Graecia and Etruria in having escaped the depredations of tomb-robbers over the centuries. The systematic excavation of the necropolis (over 2600 tombs of the Greek and Roman periods have so far been excavated) has represented an inexhaustible source of information in the most diverse fields and yielded a huge mass of artefacts, sometimes of high art-historical quality, as well as of archaeological interest, especially in the field of red-figure pottery, initially of Attic production, then, in the 4th century BC, of Siceliot or Campanian manufacture.

The excavation of the necropolis also revealed two distinctive local crafts: that of polychrome pottery, which flourished in the first half of the 3rd century BC and is the work of the Lipari Painter and other potters of his circle, and that of terracottas representing theatrical themes (miniature models of the masks used in the performance of tragedies, and those associated with the satirical drama and comedy, statuettes of comic or satirical actors) which began in the early years of the 4th century and developed over a period of one and a half centuries. The over 1300 pieces found provide an exceptionally rich and complete documentation on the stage costumes of the Greek theatre, the art of the theatrical mask and their evolution.

Luigi Bernab˛ Brea e sua nipote MariaThe end-result of all this field work was the creation of the Aeolian Museum, which is in constant and rapid expansion within the various pavilions on the Castello of Lipari.

The reports of the Aeolian excavations have been published in the series Meligunýs Lipßra, begun in 1960. The series has now reached Volume XII, while a series of monographic studies and specialized articles has been devoted to the various classes of Aeolian finds, prehistoric, classical and medieval.

Study and publication of the prehistoric and historical remains of Lipari did not, however, exhaust the activity of Luigi Bernab˛ Brea during these years; with my collaboration, he also wished to gather the scientific legacy of his master and friend Luigi Cardini, editing the publication (1989 and 2000) of Cardini's excavations on behalf of the Istituto Italiano di Paleontologia Umana in the caves of Praia a Mare (Calabria).

Since Bernabo Brea's cultural horizons were not limited to Mediterranean archaeology, it is worth mentioning, lastly, the work he pursued in the field of Japanese art, a field in which he had shown an interest ever since his early youth. The depth of this interest is testified by a catalogue of the works of Ukiyo-e in the collection of the Museo d'Arte Orientale E. Chiossone in Genoa, published in 1979 in collaboration with the female Japanese scholar Eiko Kondo. Luigi Bernab˛ Brea died on 4 February 1999, while he was working on Volume XI of Meligunýs Lipßra go to the top of the page

*For biographical accounts of Luigi Bernab˛ Brea see the articles published by the Accademia Selinuntina di Scienze, Lettere, Arti di Mazara del Vallo (Trapani, 1985) to coincide with the award of the "Selinon" Prize in 1984: L. Bernab˛ Brea, La Sicilia nella mia vita, pp. 33-45; S.L. Agnello, Luigi Bernab˛ Brea: abbozzo per un ritratto, pp. 47-57; G. Voza, Luigi Bernab˛ Brea: Soprintendente alle AntichitÓ della Sicilia Orientale, pp. 59-70.