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Another two walls fall down at Pompeii

Incident 'should not spark alarmism,' superintendent says

01 December, 12:43
Another two walls fall down at Pompeii (ANSA) - Pompeii, December 1 - Another two walls fell down in rain-soaked Pompeii Wednesday, the second and third collapses in two days and the fourth in less than a month.

According to early reports, the short sections of ancient bricks and mortar were not frescoed.

Pompeii Superintendent Jeannette Papadopoulos played down the fresh incidents, saying "these episodes are possible in the life span of a 2,000-year-old, vast archeological site, especially in weather conditions like the ones over the past few days".

She said the fresh crumbling "should not generate any alarmism or sensationalism".

The superintendency said a two-metre-high, three-metre thick section of a dividing wall collapsed in one part of the city.

At about the same time, in another area, an upper section of an entrance to a "service area" of a small ancient brothel, closed to the public, came down.

"In both cases, appropriate intervention was swift," they said, adding that the "hammering" rain had very probably dissolved the ancient mortar holding the walls together. On Tuesday a seven-metre modern wall at the House of the Moralist crumbled following days of torrential rain, raising fresh concerns after the collapse of the ancient Roman city's Gladiators' School on November 6.

There has been an international outcry over the state of the UNESCO World Heritage site and opposition parties have tabled a no-confidence motion in Culture Minister Sandro Bondi.

The minister has pledged to set up a new foundation to better channel funds and manage conservation at the ruins, one of Italy's most-visited tourist sites.

After the collapse at the House of the Moralist - so-called because of the strict rules of etiquette inscribed on its walls - Bondi also rejected "useless alarmism".

The wall was not the original one, he noted, but put up after the war to replace the Roman structure wrecked by US Air Force bombing in September 1943.

But Italy's Cultural Heritage Observatory said "this further collapse shows there is not a moment to lose to implement initiatives to conserve the extremely fragile site".

Superintendent Papadopoulos said Pompeii is at constant risk from bad weather and all its uncovered walls could crumble if the recent spate of torrential rain continues.

Excavation Director Antonio Varone said the wall collapse was the result of "torrential, incredible and incessant" rain.

The rain in recent days, he added, "should be seen as really unusual, so strong as to overcome our protection".

On December 10, in a parliamentary debate on the Gladiators' School, Bondi announced the new foundation to prevent recurrences.

Rejecting calls that he should resign, the minister claimed he had done a "good job" in appointing special officials for Pompeii's upkeep.

"The collapse of one building can't wipe out the work we have done over the past two years," he said.

But he acknowledged more needed to be done and announced the foundation where the culture ministry would work with experts to better use proceeds from millions of visitors.

"The problem is in the management, not in resources," he told parliament, saying the ancient site brought an average of more than 50 million euros ($70 million) a year.

"We need management that uses the resources better".

The new body, Bondi said, would "assess the state of decay" all over the ancient city and decide what action to take.

Work would resume on five Pompeii houses including the famous Villa of the Mysteries, he said.

The centre-left opposition was not impressed by the minister's report and the two main groups, the Democratic Party and Italy of Values (IdV), announced their no-confidence motion aimed at bringing him down.

"Bondi has done more damage than Vesuvius," the IdV claimed.

GLADIATORS' SCHOOL COLLAPSE SPURRED FEARS, POLEMICS.

The collapse of the school earned headlines worldwide and rekindled controversy about the 2,000-year-old site.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called the incident a "disgrace" for Italy.

Institutions and art experts worldwide said the conservation of the UNESCO World Heritage site was not being adequately funded.

British author Robert Harris, author of the 2003 global bestseller 'Pompeii', published a plea in Rome daily La Repubblica asking for more to be done.

Harris said he was "not surprised" at the collapse and argued that the right of visitors to see the site's wonders should be balanced with conservation needs.

"We are faced with a paradox: the more people visit Pompeii, the more Pompeii is destroyed".

Polemics about looting, stray dogs and structural decay have dogged Pompeii in recent years and the government appointed a special commissioner who has been credited with solving some of these problems since 2008.

Every year over two million people visit Pompeii, which was smothered in lava and ash by the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

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