As rescue efforts continue in the wake of the 6.2-magnitude earthquake which struck Italy on Wednesday (24 August) there are fears for the fate of cultural heritage sites and some 3,000 works of art.

Cultural Minister Dario Franceschini has emphasised that the government’s first priority is with saving lives and according to reports, the death toll from the deadly quake stood at 267 this morning (26 August) and families of the deceased are preparing to hold the first funerals.

Alongside this, the crisis unit of Italy’s cultural ministry met with the Carabinieri yesterday to agree a heritage preservation strategy. At a press conference yesterday (25 August), Franceschini announced that 293 historic buildings, many of them churches, within 20km of the epicentre of the quake are known to have been badly damaged or destroyed. Fifty cultural heritage sites subject to a first inspection by Italy’s specialist paramilitary art squad, the Carabinieri, have largely collapsed. The squad members are continuing to survey the area and expect to find an even greater loss to Italian cultural heritage.

Franceschini expressed the urgent need to “take action straight away, even as the ruins are being cleared” to preserve Italy’s cultural heritage. The ministry stated that it would seek to implement the strategy to protect heritage sites across Lazio, Umbria, Le Marche and Abruzzo “only after the first emergency phase, which must be concerned with saving lives and assisting the affected populations”.

On Sunday (28 August), all income from Italy’s state museums and archaeological sites will be donated to the regions recovering from the impact of the earthquake. The nationwide fundraising drive was inspired by the initiative of cultural officials in Turin who on Wednesday announced the decision to donate all takings from the city’s museums to the relief efforts. “In a moment like this… it is important to reaffirm the role of culture by making it available to those who are suffering in this terrible tragedy” the council stated.