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Italians revive ancient fresco

Ancient Roman funerary paintings restored in Lebanon

30 March, 18:25
Italians revive ancient fresco (ANSA) - Rome, March 30 - A series of beautiful Ancient Roman paintings discovered in Lebanon seven decades ago are being returned to their original glory thanks to an Italian restoration project. The fresco was uncovered in 1937 by British excavators in a 2nd-century AD Roman tomb near the southern city of Tyre. It was removed from the cave in the 1940s and taken to the Beirut National Museum in order to keep it safe.

But when the museum closed in 1975 due to the civil war, the specially created basement housing the precious paintings fell into disrepair.

The fresco was among numerous artefacts stored underground during the 24 years the museum remained closed. Most were damaged by damp caused by extensive leaking resulting from heavy bombardment. "When I visited the 'tomb' for the first time, I was relieved to find that the water had not eaten into the cement and plaster exterior made in the 1940s to recreate the funerary chamber," the lead restorer on the project, Giorgio Capriotti, told ANSA. "However, the frescoed walls of the recreated tomb had been damaged, and were entirely covered by a patina of acid activated by the high levels of humidity". Capriotti's first visit to the site took place in 1997, two years before the museum reopened to the public.

The following year, the fresco underwent an initial emergency operation to protect it against further damage although the fresco was so fragile by this point that museum authorities decided to keep the area closed. But now thanks to a 194,000-euro investment from the Italian Culture Ministry, the museum can finally afford to restore the paintings to their original beauty. As well as cleaning the fresco, Capriotti and his fellow restorer Caterina Tocci, will further reinforce its surface. The two-metre-high fresco depicts dozens of images: horses, soldiers and afterlife spirit guides leading souls to the afterworld, as well as recognizable mythological figures. Among those portrayed are the hero Hercules brandishing a club, the three-headed dog Cerberus straining at his leash, the Trojan king Priam asking Achilles to return his son Hector's body, and the ruler of the underworld, Pluto, with his wife Persephone. The project, supervised by the Italian Embassy in Lebanon and the Beirut Cooperation Office, is taking place in three stages. The first got under way in February and the final phase will conclude in November, when the basement is expected to reopen to visitors.

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