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Picking Up the Pieces Volume 50 Number 6, November/December 1997
by Andrew L. Slayman

[image] Buildings throughout Pompeii are under restoration. Here, the Palaestra gets a new roof of wood and tile, the original materials. (Courtesy Giovanni Lattanzi) [LARGER IMAGE]

Much of Pompeii is collapsing around the very people who are trying to rescue its history. Efforts are under way to rectify this situation. In March 1996, a committee of four scholars was formed to monitor work at Pompeii. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, the director of the British School at Rome, wrote, "a consensus emerged that...the first priority was an in-depth study and publication of the structures and objects already excavated." The European Union has recently decided to fund a new study of parts of regio I that were excavated between the mid-nineteenth century and the early 1950s.

Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, the new superintendent of Pompeii, is also making restoration and maintenance of endangered structures a priority. Last year, the World Monuments Fund included Pompeii on its first biennial list of the 100 most endangered sites in the world and began a comprehensive survey of the entire site. Among the goals of the survey are to catalog the "state of conservation of all structures," their restoration history, and the "major risks resulting from excessive public access, atmospheric exposure, erosion, etc.," so that the soprintendenza can formulate a conservation and management plan for the site as a whole.

But there are many problems. Routine wear and tear caused by tourists is the source of much damage. Manpower and funding are also sources of frustration. The superintendent estimates that a once-over restoration would cost 500 billion lire ($310 million) and take ten years; right now the soprintendenza's entire annual budget is only 5 billion lire ($3.1 million).

Exacerbating the difficulties is the size of the site: 110 acres exposed out of a total of 163. Still, there is what Ray Lawrence of the University of Reading has called an "insane insistence upon further excavations." The jewel in this crown is the reexcavation since 1992 of the Villa of the Papyri on the shore near Herculaneum, eight miles to the west. In Pompeii, the only ongoing fresh excavation is the soprintendenza's project at the House of the Chaste Lovers and adjacent buildings in regio IX, insula 12.

Excavations like these are widely viewed as a legacy of the administration of Baldassare Conticello, the previous superintendent, who sought to bring in tourist money by keeping Pompeii in the news with a steady stream of flashy discoveries. But such massive new digs sap badly needed money from the restoration and maintenance of disintegrating structures and the publication of results, and add to the number of artifacts and buildings demanding conservation. Guzzo has sought to keep the public eye on Pompeii in a way friendlier to the unexcavated portions of the town.

Andrew L. Slayman is an associate editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America