Towards a “Liquid Past”: Wine, Archaeology and Cultural Tourism
with Marxiano Melotti


Food is “good to think” in our society, as Claude Lévi-Strauss, who dedicated more than one book to it, knew very well.. Recently, in the present “liquid” society (Zygmunt Bauman, 2000), food and wine have become a precious kind of heritage and are enhanced as such. In the current post-political and postmodern culture, “heritagization” is a spreading process affecting an increasing number of social and economic aspects, food and wine by no means excluded. This fact has been confirmed by UNESCO itself: Its World Heritage Lists pay increasing attention to gastronomic traditions.

To understand the meaning of this process, we must think about the increasingly emotional and experiential nature of tourism and shopping, which is profoundly reshaping the relationships between heritage, tourism and consumption. In this context, the reinvention of “ancient” food and wine plays an important role. This reinvention uses and shows the “liquid” relationships between archaeology, tourism and marketing in today’s society.

In Italy there is a national rhetoric related to Italian products (the so-called “made in Italy”) and to “local authenticity” (confirmed by regional and municipal brands). This also enhances some forms of sensorial tourism related to food and wine, regarded not only as quality eno-gastronomic products but also as forms of heritage.

A lively debate on tourism and the commodification of heritage divides stakeholders and academics (I remember, for instance, the harsh debates about the presence of “big ships” in Venice and the “McDonaldization” of the central district in Florence). Anyway, all over the country, we are witnessing a proliferation of phenomena concerning food and wine. In Rome restaurants serving supposed “ancient Roman” cuisine appear inside the archaeological areas, while in Pompeii vineyards are planted in the archaeological site to produce “ancient Roman wines,” and many other archaeo-gastronomic events are taking place inside archaeological areas and museums. Experimental archaeologists make “authentic” Etruscan and Roman wines and food, and entrepreneurs sell them, highlighting their flavor of the past. Astute winemakers produce organic wines from “authentic” Greek or Roman recipes or use mythological and archaeological references on their labels. Local authorities support ancient food and wine events to enhance both ancient heritage and the contemporary economy. Museums devoted to ancient wine culture are spreading as well as Roman “wine trails” and living-history festivals with wine tastings and historical banquets.

This mix of experimental archaeology, emotional tourism and business activities marks a significant cultural change and shows the increasing importance of historical theming in today’s society.