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Govt vows plan to keep Pompeii's UNESCO status

Works to begin, surveillance increased

01 July, 18:08
Govt vows plan to keep Pompeii's UNESCO status (By Kate Carlisle) (ANSA) - Naples, July 1 - UNESCO has given Italy until December 31 to apply a series of upgrade measures or face having one of its most famous archeological sites removed from the elite World Heritage catalogue.

A clear plan operated with maximum transparency is needed to keep the world-famous tourist destination of Pompeii on UNESCO's list, Italian Minister of Culture Massimo Bray said on Monday.

"Shortly safety measures, including videos surveillance for 50% of the area, will be installed and 39 work areas will be opened by 2015," Bray said.

"These measures are all outlined as necessary and urgent by UNESCO," Bray added.

To date, five work sites have opened in Pompeii, but two have been halted due to the contractors' "lack of transparency," Bray said. Plans for the revamping and preservation of the ancient archeological site of Pompeii were announced in April.

The conference that unveiled the key points of a mega-undertaking called the Grande Progetto Pompei or Great Pompeii Project, said that work would "secure the site's damaged areas and to ensure that this is done using capable, honest businesses, not organized crime".

In March, the EU Commission approved an injection of 105 million euros in restoration funds for Pompeii's ailing monuments, to be combined with matching money from Italy. A parallel project of private investors and businesses to develop areas surrounding the archeological site is also planned.

"In Pompeii, as with the Colosseum and other historical sites, funds and staff are needed," Bray said in an interview with Il Corriere della Sera daily paper on Monday.

Staff is also needed to effectively monitor the site and avoid damage by visitors.

"The last round of hirings in 2008 foresaw 400 new employees," Bray said. Some 139,000 people, of which 80% were college graduates, applied, the minister said. Campania region tourism director, Pasquale Sommese, said on Monday that he hoped the responsibility for restoring and preserving the ancient Roman city that was buried under ash in 79 AD did not fall exclusively on the local government.

"The Campania region has invested more than 150 million euros in Pompeii and now the ministry of culture has to do its part," Sommese said. "Please note that these sites are run directly by the ministry, but there is a lot of uncertainty in the responsibility". Sommese added that he hoped a situation similar to Naples' rubbish problem, which has brought criticism from the European Court of Justice and put the region at risk for fines due to a series of trash crises over the years, did not occur.

"I would like to avoid the situation where everyone and no one is responsible," Sommese said.

He especially warned of union meetings that kept visitors waiting outside the site's gates last week.

"It is a shame that 600 tourists had to find the gates closed, no matter how noble the unions' efforts are," Sommese said.

Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum are some of Italy's most popular tourist destinations in Italy.

Currently, an exhibit at London's famed British Museum, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, has already recorded 287,000 visitors - well beyond the number expected for its six-month run.

Tens of thousands more are expected to visit the exhibition, which is on course to become the third-most popular in the museum's history, which first opened its door in 1753.