Smart Technology for smart regeneration of cultural heritage: Italian smart cities in comparison

Starlight Vattano, Italy

Keywords: smart heritage, smart cities, crowdsourcing, ICTs, urban design, open data

1. Introduction

The current thinking about urban intelligence and on the construction of smart cities is leading to a new concept of the future city, in which the relationship between contemporary reality and the historical city becomes an important factor in the re-thinking of urban “smartnes” through historical and artistic heritage within the virtual city of ICTs.

Six parameters of smart city model.

Figure 1: Six parameters of a smart city model.

Smart cultural heritage, indeed, can be conceived as the identity of places through the implementation of smart technologies, knowledge and social inclusion, for total participation in the promotion of cultural heritage. This need is particularly evident in Italy, where cultural resources are widespread and represent a potential lever for improving local economies and the attractive capability of the territories. The city’s relationship with its past and with emergencies that occupy the space should be seen in different temporalities and strata of the urban space, as an element of understanding of the dynamics, but also of the formation processes over time of the city’s identities.

This study deals with the smart enhancement of cultural heritage considering some Italian smart cities’ experiences as carriers of cultural values, both tangible and intangible. Specifically, some Italian projects that intend to define and develop an open platform for smart services for the cultural offer are examined. The examples studied realize open source smart systems, enabling the concept of personalized and contextualized exploration of the cultural good (augmented fruition), and are made on the basis of an experiential analysis of the territory in order to better understand the expectations of tourists influenced by social media. In particular, the projects’ aim to develop tools for enhancement and capitalization of cultural and environmental resources in a territory and the promotion and marketing of tourism. These lines of action share a technological platform and social paradigm to create an ecosystem where companies, public administration, citizens and tourists and services are created involving all the stakeholders in social innovation.

The first area of activity is defining and developing an open platform for intelligent services for the cultural offering: knowledge about cultural heritage to offer to users, its fruition, conservation and preservation. To the current methods of digitization of 2D/3D objects are introduced innovative strategies such as the extraction and automatic cataloging of information from digitized content (images, texts, videos, etc.), standardization of data bases belonging to the entire tourism industry, analysis and correlation of information through semantic engines and publication as Linked Open Data in adherence to the Europeana model. The Europeana platform project, in line with Open Data strategies of sharing and disseminating information and data, provides different ways of exploring and surfing the net, through the acquisition of knowledge about historical European heritage. On the platform are included virtual exhibitions, which address specific issues and deepen information through virtual exhibition strategies. Museums, libraries, archives and audiovisual providers are some of the identified partners (

In these projects, open source intelligent systems that enable the concept of personalized and contextualized exploration of the cultural good (augmented fruition) are analyzed to better understand the expectations of the tourist influenced by social media. An important phase of these projects is also one to define and develop an integrated system of services for the creation, certification, organization, monitoring and promotion of the touristic and cultural offering and a real-time platform to support tourist mobility. In the following examples the urban structure of the city becomes the framework of smart heritage, linked to smart cities that become the new space of explication and implementation of ICTs. The aim is to understand, through the strategies adopted by some smart Italian projects, the relationship between smart technologies and historical context.

2. The he Or.C.He.S.T.R.A. project

Naples, with the Or.C.He.S.T.R.A. project (Organization of Cultural Heritage and Tourism for Real-Time Smart Accessibility), based on the development of hi-tech solutions for the intelligent enhancement of cultural heritage is developing, for tourists and residents, a set of technological solutions geared to the enhancement of cultural heritage, both material and immaterial, of the historic center of Naples in a smart and integrated vision with the goals of sustainability and eco-friendliness (Orchestra Smart Napoli, 2013). The Or.C.He.S.T.R.A. project aims to achieve, through an open platform, intelligent services of cultural heritage capitalization that can strengthen social inclusion and encourage the creation of virtuous real and/or digital places and create and elaborate information, with the aim of improving citizens’ lives in a framework of social and economic growth. The project is based on social innovation where services are co-created by involving all stakeholders of a cultural and smart strategy tourism ecosystem.


Historic center of Naples in a smart and integrated vision with the goals of sustainability and eco-friendliness.

Figure 2: historic center of Naples in a smart and integrated vision with the goals of sustainability and eco-friendliness.

The project, therefore, aims to study and implement innovative solutions for the cultural sector: knowledge of cultural heritage to offer to users (tourists, citizens, curators, researchers); the enjoyment of it; its conservation and preservation. The platform has four main functional areas: design and promotion of travel experiences based on user profiling; information and enjoyment for the tourists and citizens. Information is available not only in the planning phase, in fact it will follow the user, allowing him to change paths depending on the status of the territory (for example excessive visitor numbers), of the weather conditions, of the conditions of the local offering, particular events or for preferences for types of experiences conducted until that time; sale and relative payment of services and products; and the optimization of operations and business intelligence. The platform is configured as a decision support system on three levels: for the user with a trip planner, for the operator (to manage touristic and cultural products) and for the administrator who, analyzing the data of fruition, will be able to manage the tourist flow planning and directing the policies and/or services. The project results have implications in the field of urban and maritime mobility, as the platform, in addition, includes the development of technologies and solutions aimed at improving local info-mobility.

The projects for smart use of historical heritage propose actions related to the rethinking of intelligent mobility, but also the identification and cataloging of tourist/cultural destinations and their definition as dynamic and interconnected systems of goods, services and experiences within a complex set of relationships in which the visitor/traveler/tourist takes the key role of co-producer, protagonist in the creation of experiential and touristic system. In this way it will be possible to analyze the development of behavioral models designed to study tourist flows in their dimension, frequency and distribution, examining also consumption behaviors, preferences and feedback. The project is based on the development of a dynamic asset of multimedia information gathered in the area, organized, stored and channeled to the different uses, through solutions based on experiential marketing principles. In this contest, the development of a tourist flows monitoring system, within the urban territory and the generation of predictive models of management and planning of the transport system and mobility, is fostering the development of an info-mobility system for the fruition of new intermodal and integrated services, with a focus on sustainable mobility systems (car-sharing, bike-sharing). Through this strategy of smart data management the centrality of intelligent services system has been established to determine targets and the improvement of the quality of life of citizens. In this way the city has favored the increase of tourists and visitors to places of cultural interest, activating a destination image revitalization process and allowing homogeneous distribution of tourists. Furthermore, one of the approaches that characterize this strategy is to identify the culturally useful traceable products that promote the development of artistic craftsmanship or are linked to the history of the territory characterized by the value of the location.

3. The Di.C.E.T. project

The Di.C.E.T. project (Living-Lab for Culture and Technology), will develop its platform of cultural offerings in the city of Lecce, Catania, Agrigento, Siracusa and Centuripe with the aim of creating a renewed cultural perception of the city, both ancient and modern one, of its monuments, ruins, spaces, findings, within museums and beyond, through a combination of knowledge, ICTs and social innovation (Malfitana, 2013). The idea is to innovate the way of doing archeology today, making this discipline, therefore, highly contemporary and current. The test platform of the cultural offering will define the archaeological museum’s contexts and sites of interest to be included in the experience of a diffuse museum that will be implemented in the smart heritage project.

Virtual technologies and augmented fruition for the Di.C.E.T. project.

Figure 3: virtual technologies and augmented fruition for the Di.C.E.T. project.

The objective of the Di.C.E.T. project is to rebuild the image of these cities, which present a temporal continuum from the past to date. Rebuilding the smart image of the contemporary city, starting from the re-examination of cultural heritage and its exploitation and use, has enabled the implementation of different types of innovative technologies. The project proposes the development of a sustainable territory to better use its resources for the benefit of local communities through the participation with strong emotional approach involving the stakeholders of the territory: government, companies, researchers, citizens and tourists.

The project stimulates learning, study and updates skills in the fields of heritage along with testing new products and services. All project partners use the most advanced information and communication technologies applying them to the heritage system, cultural activities and tourism for conservation, digitization, fruition and enhancement of cultural heritage. Through digitization processes, all cultural content can be shared with Linked Open Data. The urban scale of cultural heritage is read through virtual technologies and augmented fruition, adaptive and personalized storytelling and multidevices for the generation of digital content. The aim is to achieve a definition of a renewed cultural urban perception, ancient and modern, of its monuments, ruins, findings into the museums, space and memory, through a combination of knowledge, technologies and models of reading.

Another smart strategy for the enhancement of the cultural heritage has been launched with the stereoscopic 3D movie called Apa the Etruscan about the discovery of Bologna, designed and built by Cineca for the Museum of the History of Bologna. Indeed, the aim to increase the use of the historic city through the implementation of advanced computer applications an interesting set of strategies, based on the concept of Open Data, has been realized in this project. Several previous studies gave rise to another four projects fostering the re-use of information, images and 3D models via the Open Data Municipality of Bologna website. The projects include: a narrative archaeological theme; the application of augmented reality with online video game; an additional scene to be connected to the beginning of the Apa medium-length film, which also describes southern Etruria for the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia in Rome; and a project to support the UNESCO candidacy of Bolognese porches.

Among these proposals, the project for the virtualization of Bolognese porches, through the development of an intelligent platform, provides free access to data, information and online resources (Apollonio, 2013). The project was promoted by the Municipality of Bologna for the presentation of the candidacy of the “System of Porticoes” of the city to the WHL (World Heritage List) of UNESCO, and foresees the development of an online platform through which you can access assets, information and resources related to the system of porticoes of Bologna. This platform aims to collect the different existing databases, making information available to citizens, tourists and researchers through a graphical interface allowing you interactive navigation in space and time, but more importantly, in a medium to long term projection. It should be the privileged tool for the management and development of that good, as well as the involvement of citizens in the sharing of content and in the active participation in the same project.

In this kind of strategy, computing platforms collect and provide to the virtual visitor in a geo-localized environmen, information about urban porticoes and at the same time, users can add their own content. In addition to visualization it is possible to consult information from different databases. Storytelling, gaming and wide participation are factors that converge towards raising the general level of attention to the cultural resources of the smart city.

Figure 4: 20 sites for the project of Bolognese porches virtualization.

Figure 4: 20 sites for the project of Bolognese porches virtualization.

In addition, it is possible to consult information from different databases. The platform will deal with the harvesting of data and make it available to researchers and citizens through a graphical interface for cross-media applications of mobile apps, games, augmented reality, augmented graphics and 3D mapping events. This is multimedia information: texts, images, 3D models. Information is correlated with a specific historic period and a geo-referenced system. The application focuses on displaying this information in a geo-referenced manner with respect to the various porticoes and with different levels according to the historical periods of relevance.

4. The In.Mo.To. project

In Calabria, the In.Mo.To. project (INformation & Mobility for Tourism), foresees the development of an innovative platform for the digitization of the tourist and cultural offering in a smart key. It is part of the Culture and Tourism cluster, which also involves the Di.C.e.T. project, universities, research institutes and enterprises for the delivery of services and applications for the creation, certification, organization, monitoring and promoting of tourism systems (Franchi, 2013). The In.Mo.To. project intends to offer to the Destination Management Organization new solutions based on the formal definition of objects and tourism services, a structuring in the cloud logic, open contents and the acquisition, standardization and certification of tourist facilities acquired by typical sources of a smart environment (Della Corte & Sciarelli, 2000). The project’s activities are targeted at two main areas: at an intervention in the efficiency of the regional tourism system, and scalability and integration at the national level, with the development of tools and platforms that act on the entire cycle of use; on the system of transport in the proximity of towns in Calabria with cultural, historical, environmental attractions. The two aims are to promote the improvement of the tourist experience, with the development of platforms, applications and services for the tourist in transforming the project area into a focal point for a new strategic model of smart heritage and tourism. Strategies for enhancing smart heritage are based on a real-time platform, including mobility support tourism, aiming at streamlining the exchange of content between tourist agencies, the greater efficiency of the processes of distribution of tourist services, facilitating tourism mobility,and  the promotion of relations and the widespread training of tourism resources in the area. The In.Mo.To. project acquires tourism content through smart objects with functionalities including channels and social applications spread throughout the territory; furthermore, it involves the institutional sources of tourism (Open Data or in formats provided by entities, institutions, organizations, central public administrations and local ones) with other Internet sources (general and specialized media on tourism, data provided by attractors, aggregators, operators of tourism, and academic sources).

5. Smart2Museums

A project that brings together the features of the virtual museum and contemporary space with smart cities is the Smart2Museums (D’Auria, 2013). The project is part of the activities of the DATABENC district (District of High Technology for Cultural Heritage), funded by the PON 2007-2013 and intends to pursue the overall goal of promoting this change of vision and supporting the mutation with concrete activities through the creation of technological solutions and telematics chain of services. Such strategies increase the cultural and experiential elements of the intra-museum paths, the relationship between the museum and its original context, the relationship between the museum and the structures chain, technologies and opportunities for study outside the museum. We can identify three functioning phases of the project: S2M On site, that is the moment of the visit to the museum, through non-invasive solutions, typically insured by mobile devices that allow you to navigate continuous and contiguous levels of information, constituted of texts, videos, animations, movies and contextualized information to any significant element in support of the visit. S2M in-depth, even at this stage, is a natural continuation of the first one, takes place in the inside, but provides also a deepening moment of the experience. Only a few devices, from tablets and/or mini-tablets, will support it because we are talking about multimedia and multisensory connotations, where knowledge and educational purposes are intertwined. The telematic contents can get rich with the contributions of users through forms of annotation and so-called user generated content. S2M Off-Site is  when the works contained in museums are made accessible also outside of them.

“User generated content” is content produced by users for a specific site. At a social level, we have witnessed the emergence of participatory cultures in the increasing spread of web platforms their ideal culture medium. It is in this environment that the explosion of digital content generated by users has allowed us to experiment with new forms of participation around the sharing of information and entertainment practices, innovating opportunities for cultural production). S2M On line, is the phase that takes place in the network through an immersive environment set in the museum context to which it relates and its historical period. This content provides visitors the opportunity to complete the learning reliving the events and everyday life.

An array of contingency among the elements of the experience and devices shows how the idea of the project appears as a coherent whole. In this mixture of roles and functions, the platform provides adaptable content to each contingency-device experience. Furthermore the project, allowing access for users through mobile devices to social networks in real time during the visit, is configured as an effective cross-platform model also able to interact with end users according to transaction type user-to-user. Therefore it isn’t a closed system and alternative to the visit itself, but an open environment, integral to the uses of the museum as creator, in turn, of new contents and experiences.

From the point of view of exploitation strategies for cultural heritage, the method S2M inputs cultural goods in highly innovative services, enables an increasing demand and, at the same time, higher prices. These products incorporate innovative ways with related services to connect museums to smart cities.


Figure 5: the Open Data technology of In.Cul.Tu.RE project.




6. The In.Cul.Tu.Re. project

The In.Cul.Tu.Re. project (INnovation in culture in tourism and Restoration) aims to create a local laboratory (Lab Inculture) for the study of architectural heritage (from the historical-monumental heritage scale to the landscape) and the application of non-invasive methodologies of analysis able to provide, at low costs and with innovative technology, an Open Data information project for the operators aiming to achieve restoration interventions, enhancements, maintenance, high standards of retrofit quality and planning interventions (Ponrec, 2011). The social innovation project In.Cul.Tu.Re. aims to achieve a local laboratory for applied research on the architectural and archaeological heritage and on the landscape in the countries belonging to the Municipalities Union of Grecia Salentina, respecting the objective of identifying a good for each municipality to realize individual pilot projects. The three project pillars are: conservation, through analysis and application of innovative methods of non-destructive diagnostics; energy efficiency, through the retrofit and conservation of historic buildings; and the development of ICTs tools, through the promotion and enhancement of heritage, pathways of augmented reality and virtual reconstructions. The results will converge in a web platform, which will feature digitization, communication and Open Data logic.

The research process into the cultural goods studied will constitute three routes of exploitation: to see the invisible, bringing to light all the possible information goods and making them accessible; to taste the territory, building experiential pathways in which there is a visible link between material heritage and local products; to live the good, remembering a territory and channeling its value to community service.

7. Periphèria

It is clear that shared knowledge and territorial heritage which, through virtual technologies and restoration techniques on architectural heritage, converge into the idea of smart city can be conceived as an incubator for culture and tourism. The city of Genoa, in the field of the smart city program, adheres to the European initiative called Periphèria, which aims to promote a better quality of life and the accessibility of public open spaces, through the use of new information technologies. Each partner-city must first choose one of the five urban areas foreseen by the Periphèria program (neighborhoods, streets, squares, city hall, parks and museums), then find an area of intervention called an arena to develop a proposal using the potential of technology and the Internet to connect people, services and objects. Genoa has decided to focus on parks and museums and has identified, as areas of action, the Villa Pallavicini in Pegli and the Forte di Santa Tecla, on the heights of San Martino.

The Villa Pallavicini in Pegli and the Forte di Santa Tecla of smart museum Genoa project.

Figure 6: the Villa Pallavicini in Pegli and the Forte di Santa Tecla of smart museum Genoa project.

The Genoese project takes the name of Smart Museum and Park. As for the Villa Pallavicini, Periphèria fits into the path of recovery and restructuring, with different proposals. Until now they have implemented: the inclusion of anti-vandal cameras and a video surveillance system; the creation of a Wi-Fi island; the placement, in correspondence of the most relevant sites of the park (lake, arch, etc.) of QR-code to connect to web pages with information about the villa; the creation of a geo-referenced app that allows you to find information on these sites and retrace historical paths. In addition, other QR-codes have already been prepared for the internal rooms of the villa. These new technologies should allow a simplification and an increased speed also for including new data and the expansion of available information (historical, architectural and artistic ones). The Forte di Santa Tecla has decided to combine the upgrading of the Forte (with the restoration of its original functions of defense and monitoring of the area) with that of the green areas.

8. Conclusion

The experiments we have just analyzed show a particular tendency to mix virtual technologies and historical reality, both in an architectural scale and in a regional one, in which the role of the museum, as an exhibition space, expands in the urban space, creating new content and experiences. The experimentation of innovative solutions for cultural heritage renews the cultural perception of the city’s identity, both ancient and modern, its monuments, ruins, spaces and memory.

All these become key points: the history of the city, which cannot be read separately from its territory and which acquires a different historical character, making a palimpsest of itself. Indeed, as in the cases of Lecce and Catania, through the In.Cul.Tu.Re. and Di.C.E.T. projects, heritage/memory within the urban space is transformed into the identity fulcrum from which to begin a rethinking of urban space. As a palimpsest covering urbanized places (destroyed, rebuilt, transformed, delocalized) and not urbanized places, the study demands a new philology and a different kind of archeology; indeed, between the historic city and the modern one there should be a coherence that is primarily about urban design but not only. It deals with integrated technologies for reading and rebuilding of cultural heritage of the city. These national experience enable us to understand how the relationship between smart city and cultural heritage is now the testing ground for a rethinking of the idea of the museum, no longer a traditional space of exposure and fruition, but a virtual and urban territory which defines a new concept of smart heritage.


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Cite as:
S. Vattano, Smart Technology for smart regeneration of cultural heritage: Italian smart cities in comparison. In Museums and the Web 2013, N. Proctor & R. Cherry (eds). Silver Spring, MD: Museums and the Web. Published May 31, 2014. Consulted .

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