Archive for Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Italy’s cherished ruins threatened by poor care

November 10, 2010

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— For all of Italy’s ancient wonders, the real wonder might be that so many are still standing, given the poor care they get.

The collapse in Pompeii last week of a frescoed house where gladiators prepared for combat was the latest loss. The structure had survived the explosion of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. but apparently could not withstand modern neglect.

“We’re stunned when some walls fall down. But these are ruins not systematically maintained, so the miracle is that so few of them collapse,” said Andrea Carandini, a world-renowned archaeologist who leads a panel of professional consultants in the Cultural Ministry.

Last spring, a huge segment of Nero’s fabled Golden Palace beneath Rome gave way, raining down pieces of vaulted ceiling in one of the galleries under a garden popular with strollers. Three years ago, a 20-foot section of ancient wall crumpled into a pile of bricks after days of heavy rain. The wall had been named after the third-century emperor Aurelius, who built it to defend Rome against the first onslaught of barbarians.

A couple of months ago, three chunks of mortar broke off the Colosseum, hours before the symbol of the Eternal City opened its gates to tourists.

The ancient Roman arena has survived earthquakes, lightning strikes and pillaging, but these days engineers fret more about damage from pollution, the constant rattling of nearby subway rails and centuries of poor drainage.

Topping experts’ list of imperiled structures is Palatine Hill, the once-palatial home of Rome’s ancient emperors. For years, archaeologists and engineers have warned that it was at risk of collapse because of poor upkeep.

Fissures are apparent in brickwork, and rainwater seeps through stone, forcing much of the hall to be closed to visitors.

A building called the House of the Chaste Lovers collapsed in January in Pompeii, which is visited by 3 million tourists each year.

“We are tired of commenting on the continuous collapses and damage to the archaeological heritage of our country,” said Giorgia Leoni, president of the Italian Confederation of Archaeologists in a statement after the gladiators’ place fell apart on Saturday.

On Tuesday, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano decried what he called “terrible negligence” as a chief reason for national embarrassments like the Pompeii collapse.

Carandini, interviewed on Italian radio, warned that, should Pompeii be hard hit by an earthquake, “we wouldn’t be able to do a (complete) restoration” because no relief map has ever been made of the site. The Naples area, which hosts the ruins, is one of Italy’s most earthquake-prone regions.

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