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The Historical Archive of the Italian Istituto storico e di cultura dell’Arma del Genio

By Paolo FORMICONI, historian and military archivist

The Committee of Military Archives thanks Paolo Formiconi, as both historian and archivist, for the active participation to this blog

Introduction

This Archive constitutes an anomaly within the Italian Army as it preserves and collects documents which, given their technical-operational character, would be destined for the Historical Archive of the Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito (Army General Staff).

This exception is the result of a long historical journey, a cultural vision that saw, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Italian engineering and architecture as one of the greatest values ​​of the newborn nation, therefore deserving of a particular status also in the military field.

In 1886 the director of the Military Engineers Corps of Rome, Luigi Durand de la Penne, decided to set up a Museum of weapons in Castel Sant’Angelo or Mole Adriana.

Picture 1. The Castel Sant’Angelo or Mole Adriana view.
Credits: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:AngMoKio

Finally, he obtained the permission in 1901, but unfortunately the Museum had been established in Turin, in the Maschio della Cittadella.

It was decided to allocate the Mole Adriana to house the Museum of Italian military architecture, later opened in 1906. From all over Italy, plastics, drawings had been collected in Rome together with documents taken from the State Archives of the pre-unification States.

From the archival point of view the project was very questionable but conceived in the positivist climate of the time, with the idea to collect a summa of the centuries-old Italian engineering culture.

Moved in 1911 to the barracks of Urban VIII, the Institute was renameds Historical Museum of Military Engineers. The royal decree dated 2 May 1911 provided the legal framework to host the “collection” of documents and relics.

With the demolition of the barracks, the museum was moved in 1933 to the Piave barracks.

In 1927 the new-born Institute of Military Architecture was placed in the Museum, to which the work of bibliographic and iconographic collection of “what referred to that architecture […] was transferred in order to constitute a worthy cultural monument to this branch of science and activities of our fathers”.

Picture 2. The view of the Institute as it was conceived.
Credits: https://www.esercito.difesa.it/storia/musei/Istituto-Storico-e-di-Cultura-dell-Arma-del-Genio/Pagine/default.aspx

With the merge of the Museum and the Institute in 1934, the new Statute (royal decree 4 July 1934) provided the mission to collect and store all the documents related to the history of the Engineers corps, the military architecture and military architects. In 1937 it was decided to establish a new worthy site on the Lungotevere whose completion, expected in 1940, will be postponed and then finished with haste and economy of materials during the war.

Did the function assumed by the museum conflict with the role of the Historical Archive of the Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito? It depends by the point of view.

No, if we consider the Museum as a document collector, or rather as a conservation of documents, comparable to the finds of a museum or the volumes of a library.

Yes, if you consider it as the Institute to which the Engineer Corps and Engineer departments of the Army must transfer their archivesThis ambiguity is still half defined.

Closed from 1943 to 1953, the Museum currently is open to the public upon reservation and the archive as well. Since the post-war period it has experienced moments of activity as bookbinding, plastic preparation and disinfection laboratories.

Currently there is no reordering and inventory work. Based on a summary census of 2005 it can be said that most of the documentation, in addition to that produced by the Museum itself, was transferredby the Director General of the Engineers and by the Inspector of the Engineers Corps.

Documentation continues to be transferred by the Military Engineers Corps and units.

Picture 3. An internal view of the main area of the Institute.
Credits: https://www.esercito.difesa.it/comunicazione/pagine/appuntamento-al-museo-del-genio-180316.aspx

The Historical Diaries of the departments of the Engineer Corps are at the Archivio dellUfficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito (Historical Branch Archive of the Army General Staff) – Black Series: First World War 954 packs of General inspection of the Engineers corps, General Command of the Engineers, Engineers Command of the armies (1908-26); – Red Series: World War II 415 registers of the Inspection of Engineers Corps and SME Offices I, Operations and Transmissions (1917 -48); – Ethiopian War – 8 Inspections envelopes of the Engineers Corps (1934-1938); – Iconographic Archive: computerized, it includes the Archive of fortification drawings (1918-38). – Istituto Storico e di Cultura dell’Arma del Genio; – Museo del Genio; – Consiglio Superiore del Genio Militare; – Comitato del Genio Militare; – Comitato d’Artiglieria; – Comitato di Artiglieria e Genio; – Ispettorato generale del Genio.

Really interesting are the documents related to the studies and researches submitted to the evaluation of the Engineers corps command, like the radar prototype; documents signed by Paolo Caccia Dominioni (architect, engineer, spy, writer, artist); iconographic items (plans, drawings, photographs) from the Renaissance to the Cold War.

Picture 4. the view of some documents stored in the Institute.

Conclusions

The most remarkable element for the ISCAG structure is the peculiar nature of his archive. It grew up as a part of a cultural institute instead of being preserved as an Archive.

The Archival richness of the institute provides a clear understanding of the idea to create an archive specialised in military technology, differing from the Army General Staff archives focused on the technical-operative perspective of documents stored.

It represents exception in the Italian law. Despite this, the archival science remains an empiric discipline and exception must be considered

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