Turin's treasure-trove of ancient documents makes it ideally suited as a future world centre for parchment protection, an international conference was told here on Tuesday. The northern Italian city, which is hosting a three-day seminar, has set its sights on becoming the focal point for international developments in the highly specialized world of protecting and restoring parchment. Italy is currently home to more than 60% of the world's historical parchments and three of the country's most prestigious bodies working in this sector are located in Turin: the National University Library, the Historic Archive and the State Archive. These centres safeguard numerous historically significant documents and play a crucial role in protecting and restoring Italy's written heritage.
The Historic Archive is home to a deed founding the Abbey of Novalesa in 726 AD and a Scroll of the Dead dating to around 1125 AD, compiled by a monk from the Abbey of San Giusto near Turin, who travelled Europe collecting prayers to honour his dead abbot. The National University Library has been working for over a century to restore parchments damaged by a fire in 1904, which wiped out a third of the documents stored there. The institute restored 120,000 items between 1904 and 2000 but has stepped up its efforts in recent years, repairing 20,000 parchments and 80,000 paper documents in the last eight years alone. ''The study of parchment is extremely important, and encourages us to rediscover the value of precision,'' commented State Archive Director Marco Carassi, discussing Turin's bid. ''Parchment scribes carried out their work with a perfection that no longer exists in today's world, as shown by recent cases lost in the US owing to data transcription errors - such a thing would have been unthinkable in the past''. Over 140 experts attended the conference in Turin, including archivists, conservationists and restorers from across Europe, the US, Russia and Australia. According to the Latin writer Pliny, the manufacture of parchment, which is made from treated, stretched, scraped and dried animal skins, was perfected in the second century BC during a shortage of papyrus supplies from Egypt.
The Latin word for parchment, ''pergamenum'', took its name from the Ancient Greek city in modern-day Turkey that perfected this technique, Pergamon, but people have been writing on dried animal skins since at least the 6th century BC.
Paper, already in use in Spain during the 11th century, largely replaced parchment by the 16th century, helped along by the development of the printing press, which required large quantities of affordable, easily produced materials to print on.