Pom­peii to rise again in happy end to restora­tion saga


Pom­peii is ris­ing from the ashes again — de­spite the worst that Italy’s Mafia, and bu­reau­cracy, could throw at it.

The an­cient city, buried dur­ing a vol­canic erup­tion in the first cen­tury, is un­der­go­ing a multi-mil­lion euro restora­tion which will see the pre­served bod­ies of vic­tims go on dis­play at the site.

But the trans­for­ma­tion of one of the world’s most trea­sured ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites has been a chal­lenge both for ar­chae­ol­o­gists and for Italy it­self.

Ar­chae­ol­o­gist Mas­simo Osanna was sent in to turn around the pro­ject two years ago amid re­ports of degra­da­tion of the ru­ins, of theft and even of loot­ing by the Neapoli­tan Mafia, the Camorra.

He now has a 130 mil­lion euro (US$143 mil­lion) bud­get, most of it from the Euro­pean Union.

In March, UNESCO in­spec­tors — who had threat­ened to take Pom­peii off the list of World Her­itage sites — ac­knowl­edged that there had been con­sid­er­able im­prove­ments to the site’s con­ser­va­tion.

“This is a re­ally ex­cit­ing time for Pom­peii,” Osanna told AFP. “Thou­sands of peo­ple are work­ing to­gether. We cur­rently have 35 con­struc­tion ar­eas on the site.”

Pom­peii’s trans­for­ma­tion in­cludes a new spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tion of around 20 vic­tims of the erup­tion, pre­served in plas­ter with their ex­pres­sions and po­si­tions fixed at the very mo­ment they met their fate, car­bonized by the in­tense heat of a 300-de­grees Cel­sius gas cloud.

Dis­played for the first time, the bod­ies of men, women and chil­dren from Pom­peii and neigh­bor­ing Her­cu­la­neum — which was also en­gulfed by the erup­tion — are laid out in a wooden pyra­mid in the mid­dle of an an­cient am­phithe­ater.

A se­ries of night­time vis­its un­til Sept. 27 give visi­tors the chance to ex­plore the site by moon­light, with guided tours, video in­stal­la­tions and wine tast­ings based on a an­cient Ro­man recipe.

“We have fol­lowed UNESCO’s ad­vice to ex­tend projects be­yond the ini­tial dead­line of 2015,” said Osanna. “We have the re­sources and we will carry on work­ing.”

‘A new era’

With 2.7 mil­lion tourists vis­it­ing the an­cient city last year, the ru­ins are the sec­ond most vis­ited at­trac­tion in Italy af­ter the Colos­seum in Rome, and are seen as a sym­bol of the chal­lenges in pre­serv­ing Italy’s cul­tural her­itage.

“This is a new era for Pom­peii and our ef­forts are bear­ing fruit,” said Italy’s Min­is­ter for Cul­ture Dario Frances­chini, as he in­au­gu­rated the Palestra Grande (Large Gym­na­sium) on Tues­day, af­ter seven years of restora­tion work.

The enor­mous space sur­rounded by col­umns is where young Ro­mans played sports un­til Mount Ve­su­vius erupted in 79 A.D.

Re­storer Paola Zoroaster said, “We are all spe­cial­ized in dif­fer­ent ar­eas, some in stone work, plas­ter, fres­cos and mo­saics.

“The con­di­tions here on the site are good be­cause, be­fore we started our work, the area had al­ready been in­spected and re­paired to en­sure that it was se­cure,” she said as she fin­ished work­ing on a site just me­ters away from the Agora, the spec­tac­u­lar main square.

Osanna said the re­gion’s eco­nomic prob­lems — it is one of Italy’s poor­est — makes Pom­peii a par­tic­u­larly com­plex site to work on, and he hopes the bid to im­prove con­ser­va­tion ef­forts will be echoed by in­vest­ment in the sur­round­ing re­gion.

“We want a


train which goes di­rectly to Pom­peii’s ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site. We want the area sur­round­ing the site to be just as beau­ti­ful as the site it­self,” he said.

His op­ti­mism, how­ever, comes against a back­drop of a se­ries of shut­downs at the site which left an­gry tourists locked out and se­ri­ously em­bar­rassed the gov­ern- ment.

Some 120 work­ers sparked con­tro­versy two weeks ago when they went on strike over overtime pay and closed the doors.

“Our ac­tions have been twisted” by the press, said one of the work­ers who did not want to give his name.


1. This pic­ture taken on Wed­nes­day, Aug. 5 shows the am­phithe­ater in the ru­ins of an­cient Pom­peii. 2. Di­rec­tor of the Pom­peii ru­ins Mas­simo Osanna poses in Pom­peii on Wed­nes­day. 3. Visi­tors look at the bod­ies of erup­tion vic­tims ex­posed in the ru­ins of an­cient Pom­peii on Wed­nes­day.

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