Italy xv. IsMEO



xv. IsMEO

IsMEO is an acronym for the Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (‘Italian Institute for Middle and Far East’). The IsMEO was founded in 1933 by Royal Decree no. 142 as a moral institution (Ente Morale) under the inspiration and encouragement of Giuseppe Tucci, then a young scholar but already well-known as an Indologist and Tibetologist. Its first President was Professor Giovanni Gentile, a famous Hegelian philosopher who, as the Minister of Culture in the Fascist government, exerted enormous influence in the field of cultural politics. With Gentile’s strong support, Tucci was appointed the executive Vice-president of IsMEO. The creation of the IsMEO was clearly seen by the leadership of the Italian state at that time as the answer to the political need for developing cultural relations with the entire Asiatic world. That its aim was in fact the promotion of Italian presence in these countries with a deep interest for the politico-economic affairs, is documented by a number of IsMEO’s monographs as well as its official periodicals, such as Bollettino dell’Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (‘Bulletin of the Italian Institute for Middle and Far East’ 1935 only), and Asiatica (1936-43). Although these perspectives doubtless represented an objective interest associated with the politics of the Fascist government, in the actual realization of the cultural projects of the IsMEO, they never formed its primary goals. In reality, the scholarly activity of the staff leading the Institute was kept, as far as possible, independent, and came increasingly to be devoted to purely scientific programs, all directed by Tucci with the official support and protection of Gentile. This explains the impressive results obtained by the IsMEO in the field of Tibetology, mainly owing to a number of long and repeated expeditions by him to Tibet, which had started in 1929, before the birth of the IsMEO, but continued with the direct support of the Institute in a more systematic way until 1948.

Between1943 and 1947, the IsMEO remained inactive. Then it resumed its scholarly goals, thanks to the re-establishment of democratic life in Italy, and also on the other hand, to its own traditional scientific orientation which was enormously greater than its earlier political role, the institute was finally able to mainly focus its interests on research activities. Under the chairmanship of Professor Tucci, a new phase in the life of the Institute was opened in November 1947. The year 1950 saw the beginning of the well-known monographic serial “Series Orientale Roma” (‘Rome Oriental Series’) and of the quarterly East and West, which took new shape from 1958 with publication exclusively in English; the periodical Cina started in 1956, while Il Giappone was started by the IsMEO, with the collaboration of the Japanese Cultural Institute of Rome, in 1963. In 1951 the courses of Oriental languages were organized on a new basis. Between 1950 and 1955 a number of new expeditions to Nepal were organized while, beginning in 1956, the archaeological campaigns in Pakistan took place, followed by other archaeological missions and campaigns in Afghanistan (from 1957) and in Iran (from 1959). From 1954 the IsMEO organized various Oriental art exhibitions, opening the treasuries of many ancient Eastern cultures to the Italian and Western world (Chinese art, 1954; Iranian art, 1956; Gandhara art, 1958; Afghanistan, 1961). The increasing archaeological activities of the Institute were soon supplemented from 1960 with a program of restoration and conservation of the cultural heritage of many countries, in particular at Kabul and Ghazni (Afghanistan), Persepolis and Isfahan (Iran). The results of these works were made public from 1960 through the publication of two new series of the IsMEO “Reports and Memoires,” (in two Series: Major and Minor) and “Restorations” (also in two Series: Major and Minor). After Professor Tucci’s retirement in 1978, Professor Sabatino Moscati was elected president of the IsMEO; he was succeeded in 1979 by Professor Gherardo Gnoli who maintained his function till 1995, when the IsMEO was finally merged by a law passed by the Italian Parliament (Act no. 5054 of 25 November 1995) with the IIA (acronym for the Istituto Italo-Africano, ‘Italian-African Institute’) into a new Institute called IsIAO (Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente, ‘Italian Institute for Africa and the East’). Professor Gherardo Gnoli was elected as the chairman of this new institution. The IsIAO actually has its main office in Rome (via Ulisse Aldrovandi 16, 00197), in the building which was the place of the IIA, while the offices of Palazzo Brancaccio (via Merulana 248) have been moved to the new address (with the exception of the Centre for Excavations and the Office of the Editorial Staff). Two further branches of the Institute exist at the moment: one in Milan (dating back to February 1937) and the second in Ravenna (activated in 1999). Further information on the IsIAO are available on the website of the Institute ( In addition to the periodicals East and West, Cina, Il Giappone, the IsIAO publishes other journals: Yemen: studi archeologici, storici e filologici sull’Arabia meridionale; Ming Qing Yanju and Newsletter of Baluchistan (both in collaboration with the Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli); and Africa: rivista mensile di interessi africani.

The investigations of the IsMEO (and now of the IsIAO) in Iran have been considerable and fruitful. Already in 1959 Tucci focused the main archaeological researches in Iran on two sites: the city of Isfahan and the Sistān basin. In Isfahan the archaeological mission headed by Professor Umberto Scerrato shed new light on the oldest phases of the most important mosque of the city, the Masjed-e Jomʿe, finding stratigraphical levels of the 8th century as well as those belonging to the Sasanian period. In Sīstan, excavations in the Kuh-e Ḵᵛāja (an architectural complex attributed to Parthian-Sasanian periods and situated on the island in the middle of Hāmun lake) and in Qalʿa Tape started in 1960, and were continued in 1962 with the inclusion of the Achaemenid site of Dahāna-ye Ḡolāmān, probably the location of the capital of the ancient Persian satrapy of Zranka. In this place, excavations directed by Professor Scerrato and continued till 1966, found some of the main monumental religious and civil structures of the area. The stronghold of Qalʿa-ye Sām, with stratigraphical levels of the post-Achaemenid and Sasanian periods, was excavated in 1963, while some additional archaeological research was devoted to the Islamic site of Bibi Dust. Under the direction of Professor Maurizio Tosi the study of the protohistorical phases of Sistān began in 1967 and continued until 1972, with the main focus being the excavation of Šahr-e Suḵta “The burned Town,” the largest inhabited area of the Bronze Age in Southwestern Asia (151 ha). This mission did not limit itself to illuminating the status of the material culture in the third millennium B.C. but introduced an original multidisciplinary approach in the field with an impressive development of scientific knowledge spanning from the field of Palaeo-botany to that of physical anthropology, etc. A very significant analysis of the necropolis of Šahr-e Suḵta, which covers a surface of ca. 29 ha. and contains some 20,000 to 30,000 graves, has been carried out by Marcello Piperno and Sandro Salvadori. From 1964, the IsMEO (with the direct involvement of its “Centro Restauri”) undertook, with the support of the Ministero per gli Affari Esteri (‘Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ = MAF), a long series of restoration and conservation activities in Iran. In Isfahan itself, the architect Eugenio Galdieri directed the restoration of the Safavid pavillons of ʿĀli Qāpu and Čehel Sotun and of that of Hašt Behešt; further restorations there were conducted in the Masjed-e Jomʿe, in the Meydān-e Šāh, in the Sardar-e Qeyṣariya, and in the Kāravānsarā-ye Šāh. In the Isfahan area, the Pir-e Bakrān of Lenjān and Masjed-e Jomʿe of Bersiyān were subjects of investigation and exploration. In Fārs, thanks to the brilliant works of Giuseppe Tilia (and the cooperation of Domenico Faccenna, Giuseppe Zander, and others), a great work of restoration and conservation was achieved in the monumental area of Persepolis, and significant improvements resulting from scientific investigations and systematic restorations were brought about in the following monuments: the Tačara or Palace of Darius, the Hadiš or Palace of Xerxes, the Hundred-Column Hall, the “Unfinished Gate,” the Gate of All Lands, the “Harem of Xerxes,” the Apadāna, and the tombs of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III. Other repairs were made in Pasargadae, at the tomb of Cyrus, in the palaces P and S, while in Marvdašt other Achaemenid pavillons were studied and preserved. Of particular importance was the transferring of an Achaemenid bridge at Dorudzan, which was moved and reconstructed down the valley in order to avoid its submersion by a hydroelectric dam. Unfortunately, all these activities were interrupted in 1979, and despite many diplomatic and scholarly attempts to maintain the cultural and scientific collaboration in this field (see the chronology of the relations between the IsMEO [and after by the IsIAO] and the Sāzemān-e mirās-e farhangi-ye kešwar [= SMFK] between 1979-1999 in the booklet Il contributo dell’Istituto . . . , pp. 10-14), their resumption has not materialized. In the meantime a great archaeological recognition of the ancient Margiane (in Turkmenistan, in the area around Mary, the old Merw) has been directed by M. Tosi with the fresh publication of a detailed archaeological map (The Archaeological Map of the Murghab Delta. Preliminary Reports 1990-5, ed. by A. Grubaev, G. Koshelenko and M. Tosi, Rome, 1998). The outlook for the future is bright. Already new forms of collaboration have been established with the Iranian cultural institutions resulting in the organization in Rome (May 29-July 22, 2001) of a great exhibition of the treasuries of the National Museum of Tehran (following one held in Vienna), and of the Italian collection of Iranian art and archaeology. Furthermore, the publication of the results obtained by the IsMEO’s archaeological mission in Iran prior to 1979 has been started anew in collaboration with Iranian scholars and authorities. In addition to all these activities the IsMEO and its successor, the IsIAO, have conducted many philological, historical and religious researches in the field of Iranian studies, which have been mainly published in the Rome Oriental Series and in East and West. Likewise, the Institute strongly supported the birth of the Societas Iranologica Europaea (SIE), which was officially founded in Rome (at the Institute) on the June 19, 1983 on the occasion of the First European Colloquium of Iranology. The IsIAO organized the first Conference of Iranian Studies (Turin, 7-11 September 1987) and has supported in many forms many other activities of the SIE. Actually, the legal seat of the SIE is at the address of the IsIAO. The Institute in addition cooperates with many scientific, cultural and academic institutions for the promotion of Iranian studies.



On the history of the IsMEO, and the tenure of Giuseppe Tucci and Giovanni Gentile see V. Ferretti, Politica e cultura: origini e attività dell’IsMEO durante il regime fascista, Storia Contemporanea, 17, 1986, pp. 779-819; Giuseppe Tucci: nel centenario della nascita, Roma, 7-8 giugno 1994, edited by B. Melasecchi, Roma (IsMEO), 1995.

Gh. Gnoli, Nel cinquantenario dell’IsMEO: discorso tenuto a Palazzo Bran-caccio il 16 febbraio 1983, Roma (IsMEO), 1983.

Giuseppe Tucci, Ancona (Istituto Marchigiano-Accademia di Scienze Lettere e Arti), 1985.

Gh. Gnoli, “Giovanni Gentile fondatore e presidente dell’IsMEO,” in Giovanni Gentile: la filosofia, la politica, l’organizzazione della cultura, Venezia (Marsilio), 1995 (Engl. tr. Giovanni Gentile, Founder and President of IsMEO, East and West, 44, 1994, pp. 223-29).

R. Gnoli, Ricordo di Giuseppe Tucci, with contributions by L. Petech, F. Scialpi, G. Galluppi Valauri, Roma (IsMEO), 1985 (Engl. tr. in Purana, 26, 1994).

Centenario della nascita di Giuseppe Tucci: discorsi pronunciati da Sabatino Moscati e Gherardo Gnoli il 6 giugno 1994 in Campidoglio, Roma (IsMEO), 1995.

Statuto dell’Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente. Approvato con Decreto del Presidente della Repubblica 9 ottobre 1987, Gazzetta Ufficiale n. 37 del 15 febbraio 1988.

On the scientific activities of the IsMEO (and of the IsIAO) see Il Contributo dell’Istituto allo studio della Civiltà Iranica. Una breve presentazione. (IsIAO), Roma 1999.

IsIAO. Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente. (Italian version of a booklet of presentation of the Institute), Rome (IsIAO), 1996, (containing a catalogue of the scientific Iranological activities of the Institute till 1999).

See also many individual contributions concerning IsMEO archeological activities in Iran published in the catalogue of the exibition Antica Persia. I tesori del Museo Nazionale di Tehran e la ricerca italiana in Iran, Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale, Roma, 2001.

(Antonio Panaino)

Originally Published: December 15, 2007

Last Updated: April 5, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIV, Fasc. 3, pp. 294-296