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Riccardo Francovich

10th June 1946 - 30th March 2007

Appreciation by
Richard Hodges

Everyone I have met since the tragic death of Professor Riccardo Francovich in a fall at Fiesole, everyone I have met has shaken their head with sorrow, commented that he was 'un volcano' and then smiled. He was an immense figure whose passion, generosity and humour touched everyone who knew him. Then, too, Riccardo was the force behind Medieval Archaeology in Italy as well as the great proponent of archaeological parks. Being a brilliantly creative academic and an exceptional manager with a richly charismatic ability to deal with people, he was able to pursue his projects on a great scale. By the time of his death he had more than a hundred young archaeologists either working on doctorates or on contracts in the University of Siena.

Riccardo studied history at the University of Florence where he followed Elio Conti into the subject of deserted villages and local history. This was to be his point-of-entry into archaeology. A fellowship at the Villa I Tatti (of Harvard University) gave him time to undertake his first village excavations and established his desire to become an archaeologist pursuing historical problems. In 1974 he edited and financed the first volume of Archeologia Medievale, a journal which perhaps more than any other has contributed to the modernizing of Italian archaeology. The new periodical won him a post in the Department of Archaeology at Siena University in 1975, where he soon made a laboratory that today is the most technically advanced of its kind in Italy. From this base he directed numerous huge excavations, beginning with the hilltop village of Scarlino and including Montarrenti, Poggibonsi, Rocca San Silvestro, Siena's Hospital di Santa Maria della Scala and most recently, the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. With the excavations came a stream of publications (including several dozen monographs), conferences and summer schools. His output over thirty years was prodigious.

But Riccardo was essentially a thoughtful intellectual always consumed by a passion for particular problems. Without doubt he will be remembered for his huge contribution to understanding the origins and development of hilltop villages. He had a driving desire to use excavations to chart the transition from the Roman settlement system to the medieval one, challenging historians that the 7th and 8th-century villages were the real precursors of incastellamento (village formation). Another theme which fascinated him was the issue of mining and the strategic use of metals to assemble feudal power in the 12th and 13th centuries. With his excavations at Campiglia Marittima, Monteverde and Rocca San Silvestro in the Maremma he discovered the scale and complexity of metal extraction (iron, copper, lead and silver) which formed the bases of the Renaissance wealth of Tuscany's great cities.

But his defining legacy in Italy will probably take two forms. First, he readily appreciated the power of new electronic and digital technology. With support from Monte dei Paschi di Siena, he built up major laboratories at Siena, Grosseto and Poggibonsi to train students in modern recording and surveying systems. Used first to record the hilltop villages of Tuscany, his teams have since been using scanners, for example, to record the fabric of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and introducing airborne lidar surveying to map Tuscan valleys. These methods attracted imitators throughout Italy and the Siena standard has become a benchmark for the country's archaeologists. In his final weeks Riccardo was negotiating with the Ministry of Culture to introduce such standards to Italy's over-bureaucratic state authorities. The Ministry was sympathetic, not least because of Riccardo's ground-breaking crusade to make archaeological parks. First at Montarrenti, then Rocca San Silvestro, Riccardo worked with local authorities to make his excavated sites accessible to the public. He was tireless in this commitment. Harnessing the archaeological remains to protected areas of often outstanding natural beauty, he encouraged Studio Inklink in Florence (a cooperative of artists and cartoonists) to make elegant information panels with accurate, almost cartoon-like reconstructions to bring places to life. Landscape architecture was his secret love. First enacted in his own garden at Antella (near Florence), he collaborated with the British architect, Jamie Buchanan, to make a masterplan first for the Pisan mining village at Rocca San Silvestro then for the deserted town of Poggibonsi. Countless other parks followed with many imitators elsewhere in Italy, Albania and Spain, all owing their genesis to his abiding belief in culture as a popular right not something to be controlled by the dead hand of the state.

In thirty-five years of restless research, Riccardo published most of his excavations and has left an enduring imprint upon the Tuscan landscape in the form of archaeological oases. His laboratory at Siena is equally an extraordinary achievement, as is the network of young scholars who owe their careers to his energy and his belief in them. But perhaps his greatest legacy was his benign and generous personality harnessed to a volcanic temperament that made his influence and friendship so utterly special. He was a truly great archaeologist but above all he was a firm and thoughtful friend.

  • Francovich, R.1989. The Makings of Medieval Tuscany, in K. Randsborg (ed.) The Birth of Europe, Rome, Analecta Romana Instituti Danici Supplementum XVI: 166-72.
    - 2002. Changing patterns of settlements, in C. La Rocca (ed.) Italy in the Early Middle Ages: 144-67. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Francovich, R. & R. Hodges. 2003. Villa to Village. The Transformation of the Roman landscape in Italy. London: Duckworth.
  • Francovich, R. & M. Valenti. Archeologia dei Paesaggi Medievali. Relazione Progetto (2000-2004). Siena: Università di Siena.