Italy helping Bosnia's museum become national restoration center

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SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Italian experts are helping Bosnian colleagues preserve the collections of the Sarajevo National Museum, providing equipment and know-how to set up a center for restoration of cultural heritage in the ethnically divided country.

The museum, a custodian of culture in a region torn by ethnic divisions, contains treasures such as a medieval Jewish book of Passover rites. It reopened last September after a three-year closure due to lack of funding.

With international help, the museum’s management is now trying to regain its former status and take the lead in cultural conservation and restoration in Bosnia.

Experts from Rome’s High Institute for Conservation and Restoration (ISCR) are training the museum staff in the restoration of prehistoric artifacts, either already in the museum’s collection or recovered from excavation sites.

“The aim is to create local capacity and enable local experts at the museum to work continuously on collections,” said Massimiliano Massera of the ISCR, which has been also engaged in the restoration of the Colosseum in Rome.

Before Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, the 128-year-old museum containing 4 million artifacts in its departments of archaeology, ethnology and natural sciences, and in its library, was among the largest in former Yugoslavia.

It trained generations of specialized staff but ran into difficulties when Bosnia split along ethnic lines and the country’s Serbs refused to finance it.

“This project represents the museum’s first step towards becoming a large and well-equipped institution ... and the reference point for the coordination of activities in the protection of cultural heritage,” said museum director Mirsad Sijaric.

But despite pledges of further assistance by the Italian government and the efforts of the museum staff, who were not paid for four years before the museum reopened, the government needs to secure funding for future work, Sijaric said.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Giles Elgood/Mark Heinrich