The Levantine Foundation concluded its fourth Conservation Training Programme, on Wednesday, aimed at safeguarding Egypt’s written heritage.
Due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), classes were hosted by a range of history and conservation scholars, from 23 November to 2 December, from Cairo’s Manial Palace Museum and presented online.
Classes were given by international academics specialising in Coptic and Islamic history, and experts in codicology and conservation working in the preservation of books, parchments and paper.
A total of 11 renowned experts from six countries gave live stream sessions during the one week training programme.
Organised in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Egypt Exploration Society and the Ricanati e Restauro, the programme is the latest in a continuing and successful series of courses.
These were begun in 2009 aimed at professionals from the leading museums, libraries and monastic collections in Egypt, as well as university students. It is supported by a grant from the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, in partnership with the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sports.
A total of 43 delegates attended the event, while observing social distancing and other precautionary measures. In addition, around 200 professionals from the leading museums, libraries, monastic collections and selected university students in Egypt followed the seminars on-line.
They acquired new skills and knowledge in the history and conservation of early texts, focusing on the period between the third to fifteenth centuries CE. This was in addition to learning more on the digitisation of these fragile manuscripts and codices, to share with the world Egypt’s rich cultural heritage in writing.
Giovanni Pagani, a conservator who describes himself as a book doctor, emphasises the exceptional talents of the panel assembled by the Levantine Foundation. This includes Alberto Campagnolo, one of the most renowned specialists in digitisation methods.
Pagani said, “Ancient books and manuscripts are like a hidden and complex treasure that needs many keys to be turned to be understood.”
He added, “Modern technology offers us unparalleled virtual access to these gems, and helps us to make ancient books and manuscripts freely open and freely discovered, by a wider audience.”
Academics and conservators, working for the most renowned institutions in Europe and Egypt, presented during the programme. These included specialists from the Vatican Library and the British Library, the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, the Coptic Museum in Cairo, the Recanati e Restauro in Italy, the Atelier du Livre in Tarascon, and the University of Udine.
These specialists presented a well rounded review of the entire subject of ancient texts, from their history to preservation techniques, from the digitisation of manuscripts and codices under a conservator’s eye, to their curation and display.
“The Conservation Training Programme illustrates the importance of historical knowledge for conservators and international collaboration between several professions and institutions, in order to reach the right conclusions,” said Elizabeth Sobczynski, Levantine Foundation CEO.
Notably, Egypt is renowned worldwide for its ancient monumental heritage, but the country also possesses invaluable written culture on papyrus, paper and parchment. This includes manuscripts in Greek, Syriac, Ethiopian, Coptic, and Arabic.
Moaman Othman, Head of the Museum Sector at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, welcomed the training programme, hoping that more will follow.
As conservator Giovanni Pagani said, “This art is very different from painting or sculpture, it is less obvious, quite often locked in libraries, harder to display because of the risk of fragmentation and the choices you have to make, such as what pages do we present.”
He added, “Its history, its content and the object itself are one of the richest forms of heritage, essential witnesses of history, culture and knowledge.”