With the greatest number of UNESCO world heritage sites, and state coffers that do not spare much for the culture sector, Italy has long been worrying about how to protect its heritage from ruin.
In recent years it has experimented with private sponsors, with Tod’s funding a revamp of the Colosseum and Fendi sprucing up the Trevi Fountain. Now, however, from the ruins of Pompeii comes another idea: help from overseas.
As part of the Pompeii Sustainable Preservation project (PSP), researchers from the Technische Universitat in Munich (TUM), the Fraunhofer Institute and the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property are to embark on a 10-year, 10 million euro (US$13 million) effort to prevent the site “from falling further into ruin.”
The nearly 2,000-year-old ruins at Pompeii have long been the subject of international concern. In January, UNESCO documented a series of shortcomings at Pompeii, warning of a lack of qualified staff, structural damage and vandalism. In June it issued Italy with a stiff reprimand, warning that it had until the end of the year to adopt urgent measures to curb the decline.
In response, the government said it was working to overcome the site’s problems, having begun a wide-ranging rescue project in February which is being funded to the tune of 105 million euros by the Italian government and the EU. It also announced last month it was appointing a new director general for the so-called “Great Pompeii Project.” The project aims to carry out sweeping restoration works and boost visitor numbers.
With a start date scheduled for next summer, the German-led PSP plan is not expected to overlap with the overall rescue package, instead focusing on one particular apartment building, or insula, at Pompeii and concentrating in general on developing long-term solutions and preventative restoration.
“To date, this has not been undertaken on an adequate scale,” said professor Erwin Emmerling of TUM in remarks on the project’s Web site.
The Web site further notes: “Pompeii is a treasure trove. Each new excavation yields new knowledge, and is greeted with huge interest by the public and research community. All too often however, a lot less interest has been shown in the sustainable preservation of this unique site.”
Many of the finds, most notably Pompeii’s frescos, have been moved to museums, to protect them from the wind and weathering, but because of inadequate conservation measures, the exposed walls of the city with their lavish decorations are now visibly disintegrating,” it said.
Salvatore Settis, a professor of classical archeology, said the German-led project was “good news.”
He rejected the idea that it sent the message that Italy needed outside help, emphasizing that several domestic institutions were involved as research partners. “Science has no boundaries. Moreover, at Pompeii, there’s room for everyone,” he said.