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Pompeii eyes recovery under new minister

3-D laser scan maintenance the key says Galan

12 April, 18:16
Pompeii eyes recovery under new minister (ANSA) - Pompeii, April 12 - Pompeii is eyeing a recovery from years of neglect that culminated in headline-grabbing building collapses in November, newly appointed Culture Minister Giancarlo Galan said after choosing the ancient Roman city for his first public outing Tuesday.

Galan, who took over from Sandro Bondi following polemics over the way the site was run, said the key to success lay in "planned maintenance", recently tested on medieval buildings across Italy, rather than mere ordinary up-keep.

This would involve 3-D laser scanning of the ruins and fresh funding from the European Union and private sponsors, Galan said.

Galan, who was until Bondi's resignation agriculture minister, did not downplay the scale of the job facing him at Pompeii but vowed to get down to work immediately.

"In an archeological site of this size the emergency will never be over but treatment will begin from tomorrow.

"Pompeii is a symbol. It's the largest archeological site (in Italy) and also the most important, a symbol of Italy for better or for worse. For the better, because it is the envy of all, for the worse because we have to make more of it. It's a national and international emergency, it has an incalculable importance.

"Planned maintenance is indispensable. We have to monitor every slightest movement".

Galan pledged to make better use of EU funds, noting that the Campania region had only spent 2.7% of its allocated cash for the five-year period 2007-2013.

He noted that a failure to use resources already available made it hard for him to press his case with Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti, who holds the purse strings on ministerial budgets.

"If you don't spend what you've got, how can you go to Tremonti and tell him you need money?", he asked.

Galan said he would start looking for sponsors in Campania, stressing "they're useful, they should not be demonised".

The head of Italy's heritage council, Andrea Carandini, reacted to Galan's speech by saying he was optimistic for the first time since being persuaded to withdraw a recent resignation.

"I quit because I didn't think there was much hope. Pompeii was in my heart when I did it. Now I feel things are changing, in the country, the local agencies, the government there is a desire to get back onto the right foot.

"Planned programming is a new thing and in order to apply it we'll need the help of different kinds of know-how, coordinated by an iron-strong structure.

"I'm optimistic, if we're allowed to work, if people don't squabble, then in the course of a reasonable number of years the Pompeii problem will be solved," Carandini said.

Nine officials were placed under investigation in December for the cave-in of the Schola Armaturarum, often mistakenly called 'the Gladiators School', on November 6 and the collapse of a retaining wall at the House of the Moralist on November 30.

Bondi was subjected to fierce criticism after the incidents and three other less serious collapses in early December, with the centre-left opposition saying he had "done more damage than Vesuvius," which buried the city in 79 AD.

Despite eventually surviving a no-confidence motion in parliament, he decided to throw in the towel.

The most recent collapse, on December 3, took place as UNESCO inspectors conducted a tour of the World Heritage Site to assess its maintenance and conservation.

The inspectors are due to report their findings at a conference in Bahrain in June.

Some international experts suggested taking Pompeii's care out of Italy's hands after the Schola Armaturarum collapse, which Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called "a national disgrace".

Institutions and art experts worldwide claimed the site's conservation was not being adequately funded.

British author Robert Harris, author of the 2003 global bestseller 'Pompeii', published a plea in an Italian daily 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 the 12-square-kilometre (five-square-mile) ruins, making them one of the most popular archeological site in the world.