By Tina Kovačiček
The name of the Italian restorer Francesco Bergamo Rossi is well known in the world of history, culture and heritage. Most of the people who do and do not know him call him Toto and most of them are familiar with the fact how passionate he gets when it comes to conservation – it is in his blood, he likes to say. To find a piece of the past and make it last is his mission.
The craft of restoration he learned through the UNESCO scholarship, working on legendary buildings in France and Italy. Especially in his hometown Venice he left a huge professional footprint working on the façade of St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, and the Tiepolo frescoes at Ca’ Rezzonico. Following his graduation, armed with knowledge and valuable experience working on these famous sites, he opened his own company, Sansovino Restoration Firm that was supported by Save Venice, the non-profit organization founded in 1971 that has done a lot for the preservation of this fragile city.
Next professional step was in 1999 when Bergamo Rossi and two of his friends and passionate art lovers, Lawrence Lovett and Khalil Rizk, founded Venetian Heritage. The aim of this collaboration was to put in focus former Venetian territories that included locations all the way from Veneto to the Greek islands, from the Dalmatian coast to Turkey. In the time of vast expansion as a republic and its big glory, Venice was called ‘La Serenissima’, literally meaning “the most/very serene.
In 2010 he sold his restoration company to direct organization but continued to work as a restorer becoming one of the well known in the field. Over the years Toto has been exploring Adriatic coast a lot and helped restore some of the very significant sites. One of the best examples is Cathedral of St. Lawrence in Trogir, which he first visited in 1999. When he arrived, the beautiful Romanesque entrance portal, carved by the Croatian sculptor Radovan in 1240, was devastated, yearning to be repaired. As he stated in one of his interviews, he felt the urge to clean it. That is how his Croatian adventure began.
In that time there weren’t a lot of professional schools in that field, so he established one. Italian specialist came to Croatia to train local students and scholarships through Venetian Heritage and the Getty Foundation were provided. After that, many sites in Croatia got their new life; Chapel of St. Doimus and Chapel of St. Anastasius both located in Cathedrale of St. Doimus in Split, portal of Franciscan Church in Dubrovnik, and then one of the recent projects that caught the attention of world known Vogue magazine, was Cathedral of St. Mark in the city of Korčula.
In their February issue, Vogue has featured a big story on Croatia and Bergamo Rossi’s fascination with its beautiful nature. Reason for that was his last project that included restoration of magnificent but rusty Franciscan monastery from the province of St. Jerome on the island of Lopud. Bergamo Rossi was invited to Lopud by his friend Francesca von Habsburg, the philanthropist who had recently acquired the island’s monastery from the Church of Dubrovnik on a 99-year lease.
But there was already a connection between Lopud and the Italian master. Bergamo Rossi recalled for Vogue magazine the first time he arrived at the Island in October 2001. “When I arrived, something happened to me—it was exactly the same thing as falling in love.” Through the years he continued visiting the island with his architect and decorator friends who were doing some work with the properties on the island.
Over time the idea of living in Lopud and breathing its vast green nature, cypress trees and Mediterranean pine while surrounded by sandy beaches and rocky coves was becoming very close.
Finally, he went exploring Lopud to learn about the history of an ancient monastery he had spotted before. He discovered enchanting ruins of a small chapel with a complex for nuns dated from 1484. As he found out, the last nun to live there died in 1873, and since then, the settlement was forgotten. As he described for Vogue magazine: “We spent a few days cleaning up and playing Rambo, and when I saw the ruins without the vegetation and those big branches inside the house, I realized that the view was the most beautiful view on the planet, and I really fell in love. I decided that this was my place.”
The 99-year lease of the Monastery went through, so Bergamo Rossi decided to restore an old Chapel and turn Monastery into its own piece of Heaven. That is how he is going to keep it, save it and take care of it, and after he dies, it will be available for further purposes.
Vogue magazine made exclusive photos of the site and Rossi’s new home who was renovated in authentic style keeping chapel’s original handmade terra-cotta floor tiles, leaving two beds in every room as it was before and preserving the atmosphere of the ancient sacred time. The peacefulness and serenity were the main reasons why this famous Italian found his home on this beautiful Croatian island. And thanks to him the world found out about this heavenly corner of the earth.