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Mob Vies for Pompeii Control January 31, 2001
by Roberto Bartolini

Arson, death threats, strikes, and shady real-estate dealings plague the ancient Roman seaside resort of Pompeii as members of the Camorra, a Campanian crime syndicate, attempt to wrest control of the site from the Italian government. The site, destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, rakes in more than 20 billion lire ($12 million) annually in ticket sales--not to mention revenues generated by souvenir sales, restaurant concessions, and hotels--and the Camorra wants a piece of the action.

Notorious for its extortion schemes, the syndicate often forces local merchants to pay "protection money." Those who do not cooperate have had their business burned down. Now, it seems, the Camorra is attempting to have mob affiliates hired as guards and to cash in on lucrative conservation and restoration contracts at the archaeological site.

On July 9, some 12,000 tourists were barred from entering the site because of a guards' strike; in September, a fire was set in the in the western sector of Pompeii, threatening the Casa of Ifigenia, a small house that had belonged to a gem cutter, Pinarius Cerialis. Both events have been linked to the syndicate.

These mob activities follow a 1998 decision by the Italian government to turn over the financial management of the archaeological site to the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei. In addition to funds provided by the government, the site has received financial support from a number of international aid agencies for much needed conservation and restoration of frescoes, shoring up of collapsing walls, and improvement of tourist facilities. The site suffered significantly when a series of earthquakes rocked Pompeii between 1983 and 1985, significantly damaging the southern part of the ancient city.

Site superintendent Pietro Giovanni Guzzo told ARCHAEOLOGY that several measures have been implemented to stem criminal infiltration of Pompeii's management. "We have asked the police to oversee all contract bidding," he says, "to ensure firms competing for projects are not linked in any way to criminal activity."

Guzzo notes that in spite of the problems, improvements have been made the site, including the construction of a bookshop and the development of an educational program for schoolchildren. The superintendency also plans to construct a tourist restaurant facility at the site. As most of the local facilities currently providing these services are directly linked to, or pay money to, the Camorra, they have fought the development plans.

Even with the new autonomy and increased funds, money is still short, says Guzzo, noting that the superintendency is also responsible for the upkeep of the nearby sites of Herculaneum, Stabiae, Oplontis, and Boscoreale. "It will take an estimated 500 billion lire ($300 million) to bring the archaeological area of Pompeii up to an acceptable level of conservation and readiness for tourism."

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America