Cultural heritage in danger. Archaeology and communities in Sicily during the Second World War, 1940-45

Start - End 
2019 - 2021 (ongoing)
Department of Archaeology
Department of History
Research group(s) 
Research Focus 



Italy entered World War 2 on 10 June 1940 following the declaration of war by Benito Mussolini. As a nation rich of cultural, historical and archaeological heritage, Italy urged to actualise an effective plan to protect antiquities against any potential aerial and land military attack. Therefore, Giuseppe Bottai, Minister of National Education, imposed strict laws to defend monuments and museums on a national and regional scale. Sicily, one of the richest Italian regions in terms of archaeological heritage, was bombed many times by the Allied forces. The effect of bombing and military operations on Sicilian antiquities are still little known, even if the island was the main theatre of a substantial military defensive plan and a massive landing/invasion operations by the Allied forces in summer 1943.

Palermo (1943): the effect of Allied bombing in the historical downtown.

Cultural Heritage in Danger: Archaeology and Communities in Sicily during the Second World War (1940–45) (SICILYWAR) aims to fill this gap in current scholarship providing a novel assessment of available records from national and international archives, including dispatches, letters and B/W pictures. Documentation will be complemented with archaeological data, which allow us to obtain a thorough historical reconstruction of events. Such information is essential to better understand the effect of war on the island’s archaeological sites and museums, and all social networks between civilian communities, state and military authorities. The project mainly aims to:

  • Understand how WW2 impacted on Sicilian archaeology (sites and museums).
  • Identify essential networks between civilian and military authorities (Italian, German and Allied ones) which operated in a state of war and often clashed to protect or militarise archaeological sites.
  • Assess the effectiveness of cultural heritage protection plans carried out by local safeguarding authorities.


Museo Nazionale (Palermo, Italy): sand bags protecting archaeological artefacts in one of the main museum rooms.