The Italian embassy on Friday celebrated the recent accomplishments of its archaeological mission in Pakistan with the opening of a new museum in Saidu Sharif at Swat.
The old museum was destroyed in a bomb explosion during the militants’ takeover of Swat in 2008.
“The museum offers a further tangible proof of Italy’s commitment to protecting the rich cultural heritage of Pakistan, providing visitors with an enhanced and modern structure housing a unique collection of Gandhara pieces that is already drawing researchers and tourists from Pakistan and abroad,” said Italian Ambassador Adriano Chiodi Cianfarani.
Cianfarani said Italian archaeologists have been working in Pakistan since 1955, with the first survey conducted by Giuseppe Tucci, the famous Italian Tibetologist who also established a permanent mission in Saidu Sharif in 1956.
The ambassador also thanked the Economic Affairs Division, the army and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government for their support in rebuilding the museum. He said the Italian effort to protect the historical legacy of Swat has also played an important role in portraying a ‘more comprehensive and soft image of Pakistan.
“This is not just the ‘hard country’ that too often international media focuses on, it is also a land boasting of a very rich historical heritage that needs to be known and understood,” Cianfarani said.
The ambassador said the commendable work of four generations of Italian archaeologists and the Pakistani teams assisting them have allowed the people of Swat and Pakistan to reconnect with a rich past.
Head of Economic, Cultural and Press section at the Italian embassy Dr Federico Bianchi introduced Dr Luca Olivieri, head of the Italian archaeological mission in Swat and Feryal Gauhar, who worked with the mission.
Olivier said that a significant part of the mission’s funding comes from a project financed within the framework of the Pakistan-Italian Debt-for-Development Swap Agreement. The agreement is a joint venture of the Pakistani authorities at federal and provincial levels and the Italian government.
Gauhar introduced a 30-minute movie on the Buddha of Jehanabad in Swat and restored by the Italian mission.
According to the embassy, the Italian mission has achieved great results over the past decades in Pakistan with the successful excavations in Buddhist sanctuaries, the uncovering of proto-historic graveyards, early and late-historic settlements and very significant Islamic monuments.
In 1984, the mission discovered Bazira (Barikot), a fortified city of Indo-Greek times. Two years later, in 1986, the mission uncovered, restored and opened the third most ancient mosque in Udegram in Swat. A 3,000-year-old necropolis was also unearthed by the mission in 2012.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2014.