The HERACLES project – safeguarding European cultural heritage against climate change

HERACLES is promoting the resilience of European cultural heritage in the face of increasing climate change impacts, as project co-ordinator Giuseppina Padeletti explains.

Europe has a significant cultural diversity together with exceptional ancient architectures and artefact collections that attract millions of tourists every year. This incalculable value and these global assets must be preserved for future generations. Environmental factors, worsened by the increasing climate change impact, represent significant threats to European cultural heritage assets as monuments, historic structures and settlements, places of worship, cemeteries, and archaeological sites.

How is climate change impacting on European cultural heritage?

Changes in extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950 in terms of:

  • Decrease in cold temperature extremes;
  • Increase in warm temperature extremes;
  • Increase in extreme high sea levels; and
  • Increase in the number of heavy precipitation events in a number of regions.

Climatic change projections forecast a severe impact on air-sea-land environment since warming will continue beyond 2100.

In this framework, impacts from recent climate-related extreme events – such as heat waves, droughts, floods, landslides, cyclones, and wildfires – reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of built cultural heritage to current climate variability.

In Europe, the huge number and diversity of cultural heritage assets, together with the different climatological sub-regions picture as well as the different adaptation policies to climate change adopted (or to be adopted) by the different nations, generates a very complex scenario.

The HERACLES project

To find solutions to this problem is the aim of the HERACLES project, funded by the European Commission within the Horizon 2020 framework programme (Grant Agreement No. 700395) and co-ordinated by CNR (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche).

“Our aim is to increase the resilience of cultural heritage assets against the effects deriving by climate change,” says Giuseppina Padeletti, project co-ordinator (Istituto per lo Studio dei Materiali Nanostrutturati).

A partnership comprising 16 partners from seven different countries – integrating research institutions, universities, small, medium and large international enterprises, and international organisations – was set up. The end users, such as the Ephorate of Antiquities of Heraklion (including also the Knossos site), and the municipality of Gubbio, are active players in the HERACLES Consortium. (Italy and Greece are among the countries richer in cultural emergencies.)

The consortium decided not to focus on very famous locations, which are already the objects of attention, but on minor historical centres/areas since they represent the essence of the European countries – they are not often taken greatly into account, but they characterise our countries, our culture, our identity, and our economy, where people live and work.

The sea fortress of ‘Koules’ is located in the port of Heraklion and symbolises all the monuments and sites facing the risk of hazards from climate change, such as significant impact from the sea. Gubbio, instead, wants to represent all the historical monumental towns not only in Italy but also in Europe that were conceived and built in the past following criteria when the climate conditions were very different from nowadays and that suffer at present the effects of climate changes which would endanger their safety, particularly hydrogeological instability and landslides, worsened by the seismic risk. Here, Consoli Palace and the town walls are the objects of the study. The Minoan Palace of Knossos is a spectacular Bronze Age archaeological citadel and represented the ceremonial, economic, social, and political centre of the first European civilisation of the Mediterranean basin, namely the Minoan civilisation.

The HERACLES Consortium has been facing these challenges for almost two years using an holistic and multidisciplinary approach through the development of a system exploiting an ICT platform able to integrate multisource information from wide area surveillance (satellite technologies) to in situ diagnostics. Through the use of context, site, and risk analysis, a complete and updated situational awareness will be available to support decisions for innovative measurements improving cultural heritage resilience and integrating new solutions for monitoring, maintenance, and conservation.

What are its objectives?

The aim is to provide an operative system and eco-solutions to innovate and to promote a strategy and vision of the future of cultural heritage resilience. The overall objective of HERACLES is the set-up of an inter-operative operational chain (remote and local monitoring, simulating and forecasting, characterising, maintaining, restoring, etc.), with the purpose to increase the resilience of cultural heritage assets supported by a decision support system and innovative eco-solutions for monitoring and restoring. This system is conceived to be operationally available to decision makers at different levels as well as to the different actors involved in the mitigation of the climate change effects on vulnerable cultural heritage assets for promoting concerted actions. Therefore, integrated, innovative solutions and conservation techniques at the cutting-edge of the present state-of-the-art will be delivered by the present project.

The key specific objectives of the HERACLES project are:

  • Development and validation of a scalable and flexible innovative ICT platform able to collect and integrate heterogeneous data for situational awareness and decision support;
  • Design and implementation of new environmentally sustainable solutions and materials for the long-term maintenance and restoration of cultural heritage, under the climate change impact, also taking into account economic sustainability and cultural and social integrity; and
  • Set up specific guidelines for long-term prevention and maintenance actions, able to account specifically for the cultural heritage site features and the risks affecting it, and for the operational procedures for risk management.

The HERACLES approach

To validate its methodologies the project is applying them to cultural heritage sites in Italy and in Greece, as previously discussed. Nonetheless, the intention is that the lessons learned and the procedures developed will be applicable to the many thousands of similar locations in Europe or worldwide that are threatened by climate change. In fact, HERACLES’ proposed solutions for the maintenance and remediation of cultural heritage assets is based on a systematic conceptual approach that considers different particular parameters but is realised through a flexible, modular system which can be integrated and tailored, allowing it to be customised to different users’ needs and standards.

HERACLES wants to propose an ‘approach’ and is also developing generic, together with specific, ‘protocols’ suitable for identifying and assessing climate-driven risks. The end users can then evaluate the potential socioeconomic impacts of the various conservation options open to them. As governmental budget constraints often limit mitigation strategies, there is a need for effective management tools for cost-effective maintenance and restoration. The tools developed in HERACLES will help the organisations responsible to make informed choices and to prioritise their responses.

Another important aspect that the project is taking into account is the involvement of local people. In fact, monuments can bind communities through common identities and concerns, and they can be significant sources of income and employment in local economies.


In conclusion, the HERACLES project is working to provide answers in terms of:

  • Monitoring/preservation actions contributing to best practices and guidelines;
  • New materials and eco-solutions for restoration and conservation; and
  • Safeguarding and valorisation of European cultural heritage, promoting the social and economic values of the communities (acting in accordance with responsible research and innovation).


Giuseppina Padeletti

HERACLES Project Co-ordinator

Research Director


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