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State traditions and architectural heritage: a comparison of France and England with Italy

27 September 2012
Ex Boccherini - Piazza S. Ponziano 6 (Conference Room )
The talk will analyse policies of preserving architectural heritage through legal regulation in England and France, and compare them with Italy. The development of legislation concerning architectural heritage has followed very different paths in the three countries. Legislation specific to architectural heritage began in the nineteenth century in France. It rapidly provided central government with broad powers, including setting tight limits on the rights of owners, expropriation of private property and even control of buildings within a radius of a historic monument, all before 1945. In contrast, no major legislation was passed in England until 1944. It formed a small element of general planning law. Detailed regulation has been created after 1945, but its development has involved considerable dispersion of powers beyond central government departments and a greater place for protection of private property rights than in France. The talk will explore one central reason for the differences between the two countries, namely that each country has developed its distinctive state traditions for heritage since at least the nineteenth century. It will examine how French state traditions have centred on the role of the central government, whose role has been presented as beneficial and justified in terms of promoting the ‘nation’ and the public good’, justified by reference to the national or public interest often itself often defined in artistic or historic terms. In contrast, state traditions for regulating architectural heritage in England have involved little enthusiasm or sometimes suspicion of central government regulation and great concern with the rights of private owners. They have given a positive place to the voluntary sector, private owners and local decisions, and legislation has been justified instrumentally terms of necessity or material benefits. The differing state traditions can help explain the diverse timing and path of heritage legislation in France and England. The findings will then be used for a comparison with Italy, where legislation existed before unification, sometimes dating back centuries. After a lively debate in the late nineteenth century, laws were passed in the early twentieth century and then in 1939. The Italian case raises interesting questions about the role of state traditions and offers another valuable and important case to consider different national paths for preserving architectural heritage.