In the search of a culture-driven strategy for the revival of the Sardinian Mining Heritage

by Nađa Beretić

Sardinia’s mining landscape dates from the sixth millennium BC. In 1997, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed it a heritage of great importance. Today, the area is almost depopulated and without a development strategy for revival. This paper examines the contemporary concept of , and explores the potentialities and threats of contemporary approaches that use “culture” as a driver for change. The conclusion presents a possible revival method for the Sardinian mining heritage driven by culture and inter-government partnership.

The context

The Sardinian mining heritage, more precisely the Parco geominerario, Storico e Ambientale della Sardegna, is the first Geoparkto be included in UNESCO’s Global Geoparks Network (GGN), established during the organization’s General Conference that took place in Paris from October 24th to November 12th 1997. To date, the GGN welcomes 42 European members. In the list of Cultural Heritage Sites, the UNESCO included as a subcategory of Industrial Heritage “mining landscapes” or “mining regions” taken as a whole, instead of referring to only buildings or infrastructure. The institutionalization of this kind of heritage recognizes the following vulnerable patrimonial fields: archaeological, techno-industrial, real estate, cultural, ecology and environmental (Carta di Cagliari, 1998). In the case of Sardinia’s Geopark, development is scientific and tourism oriented, and while the local municipalities and the Region of Sardinia are in charge for the success of the particular project, they are obliged to constantly collaborate with UNESCO.

The mining history of Sardinia began around the sixth millennium BC with the extraction of Obsidian in the tops of Monte Arci, in the mid-eastern part of the island, as highlighted by Edward Singleton Holden (2008). Mining activity in Sardinia has been recorded since the Roman period, modeling its landscape throughout the medieval period, the times of the Kingdom of Sardinia and posteriorly to the unification of Italy. After the closing of the mines in the 1960s, mining landscapes were recognized in the 1990s as a heritage of outstanding importance on the national and international level. However, in the words of the commissary of the administrative body of Parco geominerario, Storico e Ambientale della Sardegna, it is nowadays "the most depressive area in Europe”. There are 81 municipalities and communities that took part in the initiative, out of 376 in Sardinia.   This heterogeneous regional park includes 60 mines in an area of 3770 km2, which are divided in 8 diverse examining areas around the island (Mezzolani and Simoncini, 2007). Characterized by high depopulation and lack of management, astonishing sites are conceived, semi-perceived and pseudo-lived. Following Lefebvre's theory of 'space production' (1991), the foundations for a sustainable redevelopment of this mining landscape demands an eminently space of imminent public – the place, which can be achieved through a project on public space that would allow to bring life back in.

Who we are projecting for and with?

 The spatial transformations of Sardinian cities and territories relate to a dispersion process, devoicing identity as an urban quality: settlements are designed for tourists up to the minimum detail; they allow users to live within a fiction, in hyper cultural and hyper gesticulated villages, out of context, timeless, withdrawn from the everyday. “Holiday” landscapes are often a projection of desires, an invention of dreams masking the real conditions of urban life. Landscapes also turn to “brand-scape” (Maciocco, 2007) when marketing-oriented techniques guide the design of the spaces for tourism, as to increase the value perceived by the user. Although touristic flows and activities are seasonal, it shapes the life of local inhabitants and their experience of the cities all year long. Perhaps tourism is not the only cause: codes of communication have changed within relationship systems, while the concept of “limit” is becoming void of meaning. Indeed, new relationships have modified public-private dynamics and "the cyberspace replaced the traditional meeting places, radically modifying the socializing mechanisms" (Longo, 2008). Thus, when recognizing current city fabrics, we should pinpoint to temporality and omnipresent changes. On the one hand, from a socio-cultural perspective, we find those attributes in the everyday life of locals and visitors. On the other hand, new lifestyle models and tourism’s fluctuations, a strong industry, also characterize Sardinian territories. They are shaking the limits of belonging, perceiving, and evaluating the subject we are projecting for and with (Beretić et al, 2015).

Shared cultural experiences, as the basis for long-term sustainability, need the local community level as its base resource. Yet, if the only permanent condition we have is change, what then, is a local community?

When considering a shared cultural experience as the basis for sustainability in the long run, focusing on the local community level is crucial. Professors Cecchini and Canonaos (2010) explain how the people who "live the city" are divided in several ways. In traditional towns there was only the first generation of population, those inhabitants that maintained substantial connections with those who “lived” in the town everyday and who worked there. Consumers appeared as a supplement to those daytime inhabitants from pre-urban areas. This second generation of the population, the city users, included the users of urban services and tourists. Then, the third generation of the population is composed of those who come to the city to work, have fun and consume it, but who are from other places, sometimes far away. Therefore, raises the question of who is really the local community? It is impossible to imagine a "local community" membership for every individual from these generations: they belong to different groups in time and space. Moreover, there are also other types of migrants besides tourists and workers. Today, not all of the population typologies described above exist in the mining landscapes of Sardinia. Actually, depopulation is very high, but as urban planning is a matter of the future, we must envision the subject we are projecting with and to.

A sustainable governance model response should consider people as the human resource and the especial ingredient of place. It is very important to stress out that tourism, even when a strong enough industry like in Sardinia, is 'just' a seasonal activity that can 'overshadow' the 'ordinary', everyday life of the local community. The objective is to discover the range of vital activities that ensure the presence of people on a daily basis and all year long, then, in a second stance, that of tourists as well.

What is the importance of a cultural approach?

Multidisciplinary approaches consider research that always studies place within a specific social, cultural, historical, economical and political context. A series of environmental, spatial, functional and socio-cultural analyses are needed to recreate the subject’s context. Creating for and with people, perceiving, conceiving, living and evaluating a place reflects its behaviours and social activities. It is not only important to inhabit the space, but also to love this place we wish to revive taking into account the mining heritage and culture. In such context, place must express, evoke and celebrate the events of local mining history, both in material and immaterial terms, to enrich and expand the experience of living. Thus, local culture is an appropriate resource and a ‘fuel’ for change.

Using culture as a tool to stimulate local economic development and urban regeneration it is not an innovation. It has been used a lot in the last 30 years. In the European context, it institutionally recognized, especially in the UK. Notwithstanding, the strengthening of culture based development programmes and policies are hardly recognized, advised and supported by UNESCO, although it is the most influential international organisation on topics related to heritage. Cultural development is considered sustainable because it creates a bridge between the importance of the complementary growth of culture and local tangible and intangible assets (Sacco, Blessi and Nuccio, 2008). Integrating culture in governance contributes to more effective development interventions, promotes sustainability, equity and diversity, and results in economic and non-monetized benefits (UNESCO, 2012). Culture is also important for urban development, as illustrates its inclusion in the UN’s Agenda 21 and in the sustainable development goals. Thus, even if it is not an innovation to use culture as a foundation for the revival of space, this approach is burning in contemporary thought.

During the 1980s, culture based development referred to ‘art related’ sectors; in the 1990s the suffix ‘industry’ became of common use. Then, ‘the arts and cultural industries’ began to appear more frequently, describing the production and distribution of creative goods (Evans and Shaw, 2004). At the end of the 1990s, the labour market in the UK officially adopted the notion ‘creative industries’, but moving its focus to individual creativity, skills and talents. As this can give room to confusion, definitions are needed. Culture was first defined by anthropologists as a “complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by [a human] as a member of society” Taylor (1871, p.1). Creative industries are more focused on the creative individual and its possibilities to nurture the local economy, generate wealth and contribute to intellectual property. Thus, is it appropriate to extract “art” from the word culture and replace it with industry? There is nothing bad in strengthening local community on its economic and cultural basis, on the contrary. It can help revive the non-renewable capital of cultural assets, both material and immaterial. It can also be a way of empowering economic sub-sectors that generate local employment and stimulate local development. However, the economy is also a threat, especially for the non-economists. The economy recognises the cultural efforts to revive a space, particularly artistic ones. As a consequence, property value grows and in some very 'successful' cases it can produce undesired outcomes. Mining sites are depressive areas, not only by the character of its landscapes, but because of their low level of population and economical activity. The underlying threat is that if ignore the inclusion of local living conditions and do not aim to improve the level of happiness, we will not just loose the spirit of the local mining culture, but we would likely create a place without any essence characterized by social segregation, touristic districts for seasonal use, and so on. What would be the role of culture in such a scenario, 'just' a tool? A tool, for what? It is not a planner's task, nor has he the capacity, to change the society, but his work can shape interactions and the urban condition. Do we care about all this? The role of urbanism is to set up regulations and limits in order to provide space for new chaos. Fortunately, our urban condition is the 'emotion' of our influence and the city is a pretty living organism.

As communications codes have changed in the last decades, “culture” is being perceived and conceived with new meanings. Hence, in the context of mining heritage, we must ask ourselves how do we want to approach “culture” and which substance do we want to preserve. Culture-based approaches are widely spread and very diverse understandings and interpretations of them exist. Further on, even if the notion of “culture” has been accepted in scientific language, it is has not yet been explored enough in the language of the architectural field. The main terms to be clarified, and the most argued ones in the last decade, are: Culture-led Regeneration, Cultural Regeneration and Culture and Regeneration (Evans and Shaw, 2004).

The term Culture-led Regeneration is prevalent, not only in the architectural field, but also among a wild range of disciplines, balancing mostly between Urban and Cultural studies. The bases of the concept are ‘innovative’ paths of local development based on the spatial clustering of cultural investments and activities, where the cultural activity is the catalyst and engine of regeneration. It is more related to space than to cultural activity. Sometimes, these are artist driven projects. Bailey, Miles and Stark (2004) cautiously remind that the "success of investment in iconic cultural projects depends above all upon people's sense of belonging in a place and the degree to which culture-led regeneration can engage with that sense of belonging, whilst balancing achievements of the past with ambitions for the future" (Bailey, Miles and Stark; p. 2004).

Cultural Regeneration refers to a cultural activity integrated in some strategy involving environmental, social and economic spheres. This 'cultural planning' is very developed in North America, where political motivation animates policy initiatives towards urban or cultural policy and agendas, mostly as a narrative among urban, social, cultural and arts policies. Fully integrated into an area strategy, cultural activity is a way of living, using and occupying social space. Culture Regeneration includes 'aesthetics' as the focus of the concept, more practiced in Europe, where the conceptual framework is the mainstream urban policy relaying concepts such are ‘quality of life’, ‘well-being’, ‘urban renaissance’, ‘liveability’, and so on. Aesthetic dimension is not easy to be centrally concerned by the Government, because it is the realm of human experience (Vickery, 2007).

Culture and regeneration imply cultural activity that is not fully integral to the project (master planning stage). Rather, it is an apparatus to reach other targets, a joint program concerning a cultural activity, for instance public art projects. It can be part of the cultural planning, while being self-sufficient or belonging to any other culture-driven category. Sometimes is possible to find the notion 'artist-led regeneration' not as a synonym, but as a similar term. Affirmative concepts driven by culture must stress out its importance on social, human capital, everyday life. Culture does indeed have an impact, whether we choose to consider it or not. Thus, let’s take a risk by considering the arts as part of cultural approach: “It's not art, unless it has the potential to be a disaster” (Banksy, 2015).

A possibility for Sardinian mining heritage case

Avoiding the categorizations of culture-driven actions, the cultural approach understood as a concept for space revival can be a powerful planning strategy. Considering everyday life in the first place, then all citizens, the common word for all approaches using culture as ‘spring’ and ‘fuel’ for change is participation and partnership. When produced jointly, the celebration of local life and of the happiness of citizens in the preservation of the mining heritage and of everyday life are a central pillar and benefit all other sectors of society (economic and environmental activity). Hence, strong and effective partnerships are required from the very early stage of the revival process. Communities and citizens need to be seen as partners, local strategic partnerships need cultural sector representation, cultural bodies need to articulate their potential contribution more clearly and we should be open enough to conflicts as a foundation of a true pluralistic dialogue among diversities.


Fundamental concepts in the context of Sardinian mining heritage are in the process of resolving conflicts that have risen in relation to the local cultural production of memory, history and innovation, as a unique, rare and specific place for its inhabitants, then citizens. The picture (fig.3) presents one of the possible organizational models for the potential governance capacity of inter-government partnerships for the Parco Geominerario, Storico e Ambientale della Sardegna. The presented model is considered as a basic strategy to entail the authority’s way of functioning and it can be easily expanded to enrich mixed cultural, local and global dimensions.

"Sprinkle a little cultural fairy dust on a rundown area and its chances of revival will multiply – or so the argument goes." (Evans and Shaw, 2006).



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Banksy (2015), Dismaland park, Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, England.



Fig.01: Beretić, N. and Đukanović, Z., Parco geominerario della Sardegna, Argentiera mining landscape and man, 2014

Fig.02: Beretić, N., Strategic key for revival of Mining Heritage in Sardinia, 2014

Fig.03: Beretić, N., Inter-government partnership model for Sardinian mining heritage revival, 2015 (according to the Axes of partnership by Markusen and Gadwa, 2010)


Nađa Beretić is a PhD student at Department of Architecture, Design and Urbanism in Alghero, University of Sassari, Italy.

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