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Ex art cop named head of Pompeii project

Scheme already funded, culture minister says

09 December, 18:54
Ex art cop named head of Pompeii project (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Naples, December 9 - Italy has named the former head of its prestigious art-theft unit to head up an ambitious project to restore and redevelop the ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii.

Giovanni Nistri, a general in the paramilitary Carabinieri police who led Italy's cultural asset-protection division from 2007 to 2010, will guide the redevelopment project, Culture Minister Massimo Bray announced.

The 'Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale', better known as the Carabinieri Art Squad, is the branch of the Italian police responsible for combatting art and antiquities crimes.

Founded in 1969, it was the first specialist police force in the world in this sector, predating the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property of 1970. In recent years it has pulled off a string of coups including getting top US museums like the Getty and the Met to return world-famous art that turned out to have been looted.

Bray said Nistri's background gave him "the right sensitivity for this job".

The general's appointment was hailed by political parties across the spectrum while a leading sector trade union, Uilbact, said: "He will do well in his new post because he guarantees the transparency and legality that has to always be at the forefont at Pompeii".

Former culture minister Francesco Rutelli said Nistri was "a smart choice".

Bray went on to stress that funds were no issue for the project.

"Pompeii doesn't need money. The project launched has starting funds (already allocated)," the culture minister said. "With the plan made by former (regional development) minister (Fabrizio) Barca, the EU already has funds for the protection of the site. Now it is a matter of applying our best efforts to the field to reach the results," Bray said.

Barca was the minister of so-called 'territorial cohesion' under the technical government led by ex-premier Mario Monti which preceded the current elected government headed by Premier Enrico Letta. Bray envisioned a Pompeii "with welcoming hotels" and an "efficient little train like the one connecting Heathrow with London" that would whisk visitors from Naples to the ancient Roman city that was buried under pumice and ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.

"I would like to arrive in the Naples train station and find an information service that can usher tourists to Pompeii, perhaps also to a museum. This all has to be built, but if we work together, we will succeed," Bray said.

The culture minister said Nistri's No.2 would be Fabrizio Magani, a ministry official who heads cultural and landscape assets for central Italy's Abruzzo region and leads the restoration project for L'Aquila, a medieval city devastated by a 2009 earthquake that killed 297 people, left 65,000 homeless and caused severe structural damage.

Uilbact, among others, was far less welcoming to Magani.

"We express a strongly negative judgement on Fabrizio Magani's appointment because he is an art historian, while an archaeologist was needed, and there were plenty at the culture ministry who could have played that role". The project to restore and redevelop the Pompeii archeological site was included in a decree approved by Italy's cabinet in early August.

"Project Pompeii is a project coordinating initiatives for the archaeological site. It will be overseen by a director-general to ensure compliance with the commitments regarding Pompeii, who will also have special superintendence over (the other ancient Roman sites of) Herculaneum and Stabiae," the culture minister said when the decree was approved last summer.

The director will be supported by a maximum staff of 20 technicians, as well as five experts in law, economics, architecture, urban planning and infrastructure.

Last month State, regional and local authorities signed a Pompeii management protocol in line with UNESCO stipulations.

UNESCO in July gave Italy until December 31 to apply a series of upgrade measures or face having Pompeii removed from the prestigious list of World Heritage sites.

The measures include video surveillance of 50% of the area and a buffer zone around the site. Unions at Pompeii have repeatedly alerted authorities to new damage surfacing in the past month.

Critics complain that not enough is being done to preserve and protect the site, which has been plagued for decades by accusations of mismanagement, neglect and even mafia infiltration.

Sections of structures that have fallen in the past two years have triggered new concerns about Italy's ability to protect the 2,000-year-old treasure from further degradation.