Decaying and Looted Pompeii Gets a Big Infusion of Care from the Italian Government
Pompeii, the city frozen in time by a super-hot gas cloud and ash that erupted from Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, has been placed under the protection of the Italian government from degradation by the elements and looters, including possibly the organized-crime group the Camorra. There are numerous restoration and construction projects underway, and the director of the site says it is an exciting time for Pompeii.
The restorations of the ancient city are being carried out with a 130 million euro ($143 million) budget that is also being spent on putting on exhibit plaster casts of some of the bodies of people frozen in their last moments of life as the gas cloud overwhelmed the city, after which it was buried in ash. The cultural and historical richness of the town cannot be overstated. Many artworks, statues, frescos and papyrus scrolls were preserved by the volcanic eruption that inundated the town, which had 2.7 million visitors in 2014.
The ancient city of Pompeii, Italy. (BigStockPhoto)
The United Nations had threatened to remove Pompeii from UNESCO's World Heritage Site status, but that threat appears to have been rescinded as the Italian government, under archeologist Massimo Osanna, who has turned around the project in two years.
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Degradation included damaged and fading mosaics and frescos on floors and walls of houses, buildings that were decaying and even falling apart and vandalism, said the World Socialist Web Site in 2012. The problems stemmed from over-exploitation for commercial use, bad archaeological methodology and restoration techniques and natural erosion.
“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. “We have followed UNESCO’s advice to extend projects beyond the initial deadline of 2015. We have the resources and we will carry on working.”
A video of the 2015 restoration of the casts can be seen here:
In ancient times, Pompeii had a population of as many as 20,000 in its 163 acres (65 hectares), most but not all of which have been excavated. Pompeii is just south of Naples on the southeast Italian coast.
The exhibition of plaster casts of 20 victims of Mount Vesuvius' eruption are on display in a wooden pyramid in an ancient amphitheater through September 27, 2015. The people and some animals were carbonized by a gas cloud of 300 degrees C (572 degrees Fahrenheit). The actual bodies, which were ossified by the heat, will not go on display but rather the plaster casts that show the exact position the bodies were found in.
Pompeii was a flourishing Roman city from the 6th century BC until it became frozen in time, preserved by the layers of ash that spewed out from the great eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Although Pompeii was initially rediscovered at the end of the 16th century, it was only properly excavated in the 18th century.
Excavators were startled by the sexually explicit frescoes they were unearthing, quite shocking to the sensibilities of medieval citizens of Rome, so they quickly covered them over.
Raunchy frescoes uncovered in Pompeii. (BigStockPhoto)
When excavations resumed nearly two centuries later, archaeologists found the city almost entirely intact – loaves of bread still sat in the oven, bodies of men, women, children and pets were found frozen in their last moments, the expressions of fear still etched on their faces, and the remains of meals remained discarded on the pavement. The astounding discovery meant that researchers could piece together exactly what life was like for the ancient Romans of Pompeii – the food they ate, the jobs they performed and the houses they lived in.
The recent efforts to restore the city of Pompeii are necessary and will help ensure that the story of the site remains available to future generations.
Featured Image: The bodies of about 20 victims of the volcanic eruption of 79 AD are on display through September 27, 2015, in an ancient amphitheater. (Photo by Mario Laporta of AFP)
By Mark Miller