“The light of Liberty shines through the Book of History. This Book is open to the memory of the heroes of September 11, 2001.” —Daniel Libeskind (1946– ) lead architect for New York’s re-imagined World Trade Center complex and designer of Memoria e Luce
The horror of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center’s Twin Towers was felt around the world. The majority of the fatalities were American, mostly from the New York City region. Of the 2,973 fatalities, 353, about 12% of the total, were non-U.S. citizens; they came from 115 countries. Because Europe is not a stranger to terrorists attacks the pain of the 9|11 tragedy was especially strong for Europeans.
Among the 17 million Americans who claim Italian ancestry were New York City firefighters, police officers, and others who lost their lives when the Twin Towers collapsed. On September 11, 2005, Italy marked the fourth anniversary of the attacks with the dedication of a glass and steel memorial monument titled Memoria e Luce (Memory and Light). Located in the northern Italian city of Padova, the memorial incorporates a twisted piece of metal, salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center’s South Tower.
The most prominent feature of Memoria e Luce, this recovered piece of steel still shows its original construction number, 408. The tremendous force of the South Tower’s collapse mangled the beam. This structural fragment was first shown at the American Pavilion, part of the 2002 Venice Biennale. The U.S. State Department later donated the 19.6-foot-long I-beam to Italy’s Veneto Region. It was then given to one of the Region’s most prominent communities, the City of Padova, a busy commercial and educational center.
Padova, a medium-sized Italian city, is largely unknown to the ordinary American, who can more easily place it geographically when told that it is not far from Venice. Memoria e Luce is close to Padova’s Cappella degli Scrovegni (the Scrovegni Chapel), decorated with the magnificent 1305 frescoes by Giotto di Bondone, and the city’s university, founded in 1222. Although there are several memorial tributes to the September 11th tragedy in Europe, Memoria e Luce is the most formal and majestic one of them.
The memorial’s designer, Mr. Libeskind, an American architect of Polish descent, used the “Book of History” as a metaphor. The left hand “page” of the “book” shows the salvaged steel beam. The open “book” is made of glass and steel, and its “pages” and “cover” resemble the façade of the Twin Towers. The hinge of the “Book of History” symbolizes the connection between New York and Padova. During excavation for the memorial, a historical masonry wall was uncovered, adding other memories to the area. The “Book of History” is opened to face in the direction of New York. As the title of the memorial suggests, it is brilliantly lighted at night; but only the “Book” is illuminated, not the surrounding area. The brightly illuminated memorial monument creates a very dramatic sight!
At 164 feet high, the memorial stands out. The light and forms of its zigzag-patterned glass, meant to recall the exterior the Twin Towers, change depending from angle it is seen. Located in the Porte Contarine Gardens adjacent to the Piovego Canal, we stumbled upon the memorial during our 2013 driving tour through the Veneto region; Padova was a must-see city for its great art and architecture dating from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. I remember being surprised when we discovered it. As a New Yorker, I was touched to see a monument paying tribute to America’s first 21st-century catastrophe. It is unusual to see anyone pass beyond the entry gate; few people walk down to the memorial itself. Rather, most passersby look at it from a distance, from the bridge, where thousands of people pass every day on their way to the city center.
I entered memorial grounds and walked down the gently inclined path; I wanted to look at the crumpled beam up close. The huge, isolated beam makes a powerful statement. Looking up at it, I could not but stop and reflect on the setback humanity suffered on that tragic date. Having visited and seen the Twin Towers many times, plus having known someone who worked there and lost his life, emotions came easily. At that moment, far from home on vacation, the memorial allowed me to feel closer to my great city and a little less lonely in my grief. I knew that others, far from the site of the tragedy, mourn and remember the senseless loss of 9|11.
Read other articles connected with 9|11 that Walk About New York has published, including The 9|11 Memorial and New York’s Bravest and New York’s Darkest Day.