Pompeii, an ancient city in western Italy buried in the seventeenth century by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, contains the well-preserved remains of various structures, mosaics, furniture, and even the city’s perished inhabitants. Thousands of tourists travel to this incredible archeological site, but in recent years the dwindling financial support and limited personnel of the site’s troubled management have left it dangerously exposed to the elements.
In Pompeii, only a few of the ancient buildings out of the dozens on site are open to the public. Unfortunately, conservators are repeatedly required to shore up eroding walls and water-damaged frescoes rather than plan the systematic maintenance needed to prevent sudden collapses.
The site’s degradation includes faded or fragmented frescos and mosaics, a majority of which line the floors and walls of the various buildings. Several structures on site are falling apart entirely.
According to the New York Times, officials say that many recent collapses were the result of bad drainage and the slow erosion of the ancient building materials.
Although Pompeii’s future has been a recurring concern since its initial discovery in 1748, significant warnings were sounded in 1996 when it was placed on the World Monuments Fund as a heritage site at high-priority risk of degradation.
The seriousness of the situation even prompted UNESCO (the United Nations Environmental, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the European Union to support the preservation through a $137 million effort known as the Great Pompeii Project.
The new conservation strategy will be focused less on restoring individual monuments and more on comprehensive maintenance, including the improvement of techniques of collecting and effectively removing excess water.
Working to balance preservation work with tourism, the project also wants to strengthen the culture-driven economy. Officials say that the project has a better chance of succeeding than several other plans that have failed because it is a program involving both the culture as well as the examination of the severe damage.
To many Italian citizens, Pompeii is an important historical site that needs to be salvaged. A resident of Calabria, Italy, Mario Pignatari, shares his experiences in Pompeii: “The first time I have been to Pompeii was when I was a kid on a school field trip. When I came back after about twenty years later, it was completely different. So much so that I never thought that visiting Pompeii again would arouse such strong emotions.”
Reflecting on its beauty, Pignatari says, “Getting to see Pompeii means entering into the story, and if you have the right imagination it is possible to really live the time of the Romans. It ‘s true, you are living the story, you go back in the past and rediscover a lost civilization… the one that gave us life. The city is beautiful, through the entrance gate you can go back in time. It allows you to enter the home of all, the poor and the rich, the common people and the powerful, all united by a common destiny, finished in one night.”
Pignatari worries about the future of Pompeii: “Pompeii must be safeguarded and protected because in addition to being a unique artistic value is a thin line that connects us to the past. In the words of Benedetto Croce, one of the greatest Italian writers, ‘the story is story of our soul and history of the human soul is the story of the world.’”