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Pompeii (Photo: Telegraph)

Destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, Pompeii survived excavation starting in the 18th century and has stoically borne the wear and tear of millions of modern-day tourists.

But now, its deep-hued frescoes, brick walls and elegant tile mosaics appear to be at risk from an even greater threat: the bureaucracy of the Italian state.

In recent years, collapses at the site have alarmed conservationists, who warn that this ancient Roman city is dangerously exposed to the elements — and is poorly served by the red tape, the lack of strategic planning and the limited personnel of the site’s troubled management.

The site’s decline has captured the attention of the European Union, which began a $137 million effort in February that aims to balance preservation with accessibility to tourists. Called the Great Pompeii Project, the effort also seeks to foster a culture-driven economy in an area dominated by the Neapolitan Mafia.


Rachel Donadio and Elisabetta Povoledo
New York Times


The remains of what was once a house in the ‘School of Gladiators. Associated Press

The scandal over conditions at the ancient Roman city of Pompeii has yet to die down since a structure known as the “School of the Gladiators” collapsed there in early November. At least three other major collapses occurred in the past two months. Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano has called the situation a “national disgrace”; opposition parliamentarians continue to press for Culture Minister Sandro Bondi’s resignation; and in mid-December, prosecutors announced that they were investigating nine people, including Pompeii’s former superintendent, to see whether they should be charged with criminal neglect…

Recent events have thus revived a long-running national debate over why Italy cannot take better care of its rich cultural heritage. Many commentators have stressed funding shortages, noting that governments of both the right and the left have cut culture spending over the past decade. Italy’s leading financial newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore, has even suggested that Pompeii turn to corporate sponsors like Ferrari and Coca-Cola, which might pay for the chance to associate their brands with the ruins they help preserve. Later this month, the Italian government is expected to approve tens of millions of euros in emergency funds to address the Pompeii crisis.


Francis X. Rocca
Wall Street Journal

A view of the wall protecting the nearby House of the Moralist that collapsed in the ancient archaeological site. Photo: Roberto Salomone/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Less than a month after Pompeii’s so-called House of Gladiators collapsed into rubble, portions of a garden wall at the nearby House of the Moralist fell down on Tuesday, prompting new calls to better safeguard the city buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Antonio Varone, Pompeii’s director of excavations, said the house – which actually consists of two adjacent abodes that belonged to two families – was in no danger.

The wall, which bordered an unexcavated area and was shored up earlier this year, had been completely rebuilt after the United States bombing of the Naples area in World War II, according to the culture ministry. Mr. Varone told the news agency ANSA that the wall had most likely succumbed to the “incredible, incessant torrential rains” that have washed over central Italy in recent days.


Elisabetta Povoledo
New York Times