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March 5, 2021

Following Mehriban Aliyeva’s initiative, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation makes new contribution to preservation of world and religious heritage in Vatican

Projects by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation serving the preservation of historical, cultural and religious heritage do not confine to the boundaries of Azerbaijan. For over ten years, religious monuments of significant historical importance in Vatican have been restored with the support of the Foundation. Following the noble initiative of First Vice-president of Azerbaijan, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva, next phase of the cooperation was launched in this direction.  

 

According to AzerTag‘s information, a delegation comprised of representatives of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and religious communities living in Azerbaijan were on a visit to Vatican. During the visit, a new agreement on cooperation was signed between the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Holy See’s Council for Sacred Archaeology on restoration of Saint Commodilla catacombs.

 

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravazzi, the chairperson of the Pontifical Council of the Holy See for Culture and of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, said the ceremony of signing a cooperation agreement was a significant event in the relations between Vatican and Azerbaijan. It was noted that the existing cooperation between the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Vatican has already stepped into the next phase. The cardinal, recalling the projects implemented in the framework of the cooperation and giving information about the three essential phases, brought to attention that in the first phase, catacombs of Saint Marcelino and Pietro were restored, and after this restoration works, an opening ceremony took place for the public with participation of Azerbaijan’s First Vice-president, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva. Now, the public has a chance to visit these catacombs with restored magnificent frescoes.

 

The second phase related to the museum created in Saint Sebastian Basilica. President of the Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva has taken close part in the organization of a museum where restored sarcophagi are preserved. The third phase, to be launched, aims at restoring Commodilla catacombs, which so far were close to visitors, and make them open to visitors.

 

The cardinal brought to attention that this successful cooperation, jointly founded by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Vatican, along with serving the preservation of cultural heritage, at the same time, makes contribution to the development of dialogue between religions: “With the majority of population being Muslims, Azerbaijan has treated the Christian cultural heritage with great care, which is a very remarkable aspect.” said the cardinal. The fact that representatives of all religious communities were included in the delegation was appreciated by him as high value given to religious diversity. The new cooperation agreement will result in opening of one of the catacombs in the city of Rome to the public, whereby, adding another pearl to the cultural richness of Rome. In 2025, jubilee events under the title of “Holy Year” - which is celebrated every 25 years and is of special importance to the Catholic Church - will take place in the city of Rome, attracting tourists and pilgrims to the “eternal city” from around the world. This will ensure that more visitors come to see the Commodilla catacombs after their restoration: “Therefore, we deeply thank the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and see them in the membership of our cultural community, as the Foundation too, like ourselves, has been closely watching the objectives of development of both cultural and religious dialogue.”

 

Executive Director of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Anar Alakbarov conveyed the greetings of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and First Vice-president of Azerbaijan, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva to the attendees of the event. He noted that about a year ago, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was on a visit to Vatican and held meetings here. It was underscored that thanks to the cooperation between the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Holy See, implementation of projects towards preserving the world’s cultural heritage was accomplished, noting that First Vice-president of Azerbaijan, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva has been closely watching these relations. The letter by First Vice-president Mehriban Aliyeva was handed over to Cardinal G. Ravazzi during the meeting.

 

In the letter is mentioned that our joint endeavours have been strengthening the bilateral relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Holy See. These endeavours reflect our concrete and practical contribution, on a global level, to the dialogue between cultures and religions that are now needed more.

 

It is mentioned that by the activities of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Azerbaijan has, over the course of the last years, demonstrated that all elements of the cultural heritage are equally valuable to us. Despite their geographical, cultural and religious limitations, Christian catacombs are deemed examples of the world heritage, and, therefore, these monuments should be protected and promoted. Thus, Azerbaijan is ready to continue the fruitful cooperation with the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology.

 

In the letter is stated that the signing of another agreement that would allow us to participate in a project on restoration and preservation of Commodilla catacombs once more testifies to our strong loyalty to preservation of the world heritage. Accomplishment of the project, which is expected to be implemented in the course of two years, will enable the opening of these important catacombs to visitors.

 

It is further noted that as a result of about thirty years of occupation by Armenia of Azerbaijan’s Nagorno Karabagh region and seven surrounding districts, serious damage was caused to matchless cultural heritage of Azerbaijan on these territories. Upon liberating these Azerbaijani territories as a result of the Patriotic War last year, it was very hard to see the scale of the destruction caused to these areas. The reality associated with looting, insulting and razing hundreds of historical monuments – museums, art galleries, mosques and cemeteries - to the ground that we saw with our own eyes was far worse than we had imagined. “Now we are facing a great duty as restoration of the liberated lands. I am sure we will accomplish this successfully. Cities and villages destroyed will be restored. We will do our utmost to restore all the cultural heritage destroyed, regardless of their source, as they embody the cultural diversity we have been taking pride in.”, - is stated in the letter.

 

During the meeting, the Azerbaijani delegation, emphasizing that international experts had been involved in the implementation of the projects in Vatican, called on to the specialists of Vatican to take close part in the restoration of historical and cultural heritage on the liberated from occupation territories of Azerbaijan, and contribute to this process by their opinions and recommendations.

 

Inspector of the Commission for Sacred Archaeology, professor Fabrizio Bisconti, briefly talking about the works carried out in the framework of the cooperation between the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Vatican, spoke about the restoration works to be performed in the third phase. F. Bisconti noted that although the history of the Commodilla catacombs, with total length of about seven kilometres, goes back to the 4th century A.D., they were rediscovered in the 15th century, but excavation works were carried out in the 20th century. While performing the conservation works on the ceiling of the catacombs that were in an emergency condition, state-of-the-art technology was used with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

 

At the meeting, deputy Chairperson of the Caucasian Muslims Department, rector of the Baku Islamic University Sabir Hasanli and chairperson of the Baku City Mountain Jews Religious Community Milikh Yevdayev talked about the religious tolerance, multicultural environment and the conditions created for religious communities in Azerbaijan.

 

Further, the delegation became familiar with the Commodilla catacombs located on the territory of Rome city’s 8th district. Head of the municipality of Rome’s 8th district Amadeo Chiakkeri mentioned about the importance of the catacombs located on the territory of this district, noting that the project of restoration of the catacombs located on a busy territory by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation made residence of the area happy. It was mentioned that the restoration works would attract the public and tourists to this historical monument, ensuring that this monument is preserved for future generations.

 

Archaeologist of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology Barbara Matsei, bringing to the attention that no restoration works had been carried out so far in the extremely vulnerable section of the Commodilla catacombs, noted that the restoration works will, at the same time, create a unique chance to closely study and examine the pictures. As the structure of the monuments are delicate, state-of-the-art technology and methods will be used in these works, paying attention to the method of drawing pictures, as well as the paints and materials to be used.

 

Inspector of the Commission for Sacred Archaeology, professor Fabrizio Bisconti gave information about the history of the catacombs during the excursion. It was noted that the catacombs where first artefacts related to the early Christianity area is also known as the place where Christian martyrs called Felisio and Adactus were buried, which had become a pilgrimage of the devout in the middle ages. Frescoes in such themes as first Christian martyr San Stefano, Jesus Christ’s handing over the keys of the Paradise to Apostle Pietro etc. are of religious and historical importance. At the same time, it was noted that construction of residential buildings on this territory in the 50s of the last century has affected the statics of the catacombs negatively, and, without the support provided by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, part of the catacombs with great archaeological importance would have collapsed.   

 

The delegation became familiar also with the new museum created and the sarcophagi restored  with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. It was informed that the restoration works on the Saint Sebastian catacombs with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation started in 2016. On September 26, 2016, First Vice-president of the Republic of Azerbaijan, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva attended the inauguration of the catacombs. At the moment, exhibits comprised of 150 sarcophagi or their fragments restored with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation are preserved in the museum. And in the catacomb, comprised of four floors underground, a sarcophagus and bas-reliefs restored with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation are preserved. The bas-relief with scenes from the Bible is among the significant monuments related to the early Christianity.

 

It was, at the same time, underscored that although there were over 60 catacombs in the city of Rome, only few of them are open to the public. The works carried out with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation are of significant importance in terms of preserving religious and cultural heritage.

 

Then, the delegation became familiar with the Saint Sebastian Basilica constructed in the 4th century over the catacomb.

 

They also viewed the bas-relief called “The meeting of Pope Leon the 1st and Hun Emperor Atilla” on the basilica of the Saint Peter Church, of which restoration finished in 2020.

 

Thus, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation launched another project serving the preservation of the world’s cultural, historical and religious heritage, and development of intercultural and interreligious relations. 


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