The embarrassing collapse of buildings at the ancient Roman city of Pompeii has reignited debate in Italy over conservation, amid warnings that budget cuts could trigger fresh degradation of key sites.
“Italian cultural heritage is at risk of falling apart,” said Pier Giovanni Guzzo, the former head of the archaeological site of Pompeii.
Pompeii, which was entombed by the massive eruption of the nearby Mount Vesuvius volcano in 79AD, is one of the most visited sites in the world, receiving about 3 million tourists each year.
“There hasn’t been the necessary conservation carried out,” Guzzo said.
Late last month a 12m long wall collapsed, with experts blaming persistent heavy rain. It was the second collapse in the month, after the House of the Gladiators crumbled on Nov. 6.
Cuts in Italy’s cultural budget are having a devastating impact on the country’s heritage, putting many monuments and archaeological digs at risk, Guzzo said.
Nor is Pompeii the only site affected: Last March, part of the roof of the Domus Aurea — the Golden House — in Rome collapsed.
The huge villa, built by Emperor Nero in 64AD after the great fire of Rome, lies just a few meters away from the Colosseum.
The culture budget has been shrinking for several years as Italy continues to struggle with slow economic growth and mounting debt. This year the budget dropped to 5 billion euros (US$6.6 billion), down from 7 billion euros two years ago.
Guzzo said the lack of funds had directly contributed to the poor condition of walls and ancient buildings in Pompeii.
Archeologists and tourism professionals say a greater priority should be placed on preserving the country’s heritage.