Friday, 24 February 2017

Under Golden Arches in Italy, a Tract of Roman Road - FEB. 22, 2017

FEB. 22, 2017 New York Times

It’s a common enough story in Italy: An ancient ruin — in this case, a tract of Roman road — is discovered during the construction of a building — in this case, a McDonald’s — and puts a halt to the work until the site can be excavated.
Rather than fret about lost time and money, McDonald’s decided to sponsor the dig, and it worked with the archaeological authorities to preserve the road, built between the second and first centuries B.C.
As of Tuesday, visitors to the fast-food restaurant, about 12 miles southeast of central Rome, could walk along the 147-foot stretch of road without even having to buy a Big Mac.
Many parts of Italy contain subterranean riches, and over the centuries, countless edifices have incorporated or adapted the ruins of previous eras. Several restaurants in Rome, for example, have an important historical or archaeological lineage, like being the site where Julius Caesar was murdered, or a place where oil amphorae were stocked in ancient times. Even the McDonald’s in Termini Station in Rome includes a section of the Servian Wall, from the fourth century B.C.
But the work at the McDonald’s in Marino — more precisely in the hamlet of Frattocchie, known as Bovillae in ancient times — stands out because the project incorporated the road, which would otherwise have been reburied.
“Archaeology is constantly bringing to light testimonies of the past that have to be documented in an exacting manner but can’t always be properly preserved,” said Alfonsina Russo, the Culture Ministry’s archaeological superintendent for the area.
In many cases, unless the archaeological finds are exceptional, they are reburied in the hopes that they can be re-examined later. “It’s better to protect them than to leave them exposed, when it’s not possible to properly care for them,” Ms. Russo explained. “The earth protects, man destroys.”
The finding of the road, uncovered in 2014 while digging for the foundations of the McDonald’s, came as a surprise. “We decided with McDonald’s to protect and promote this important site, which would have otherwise fallen again into oblivion,” Ms. Russo said.
The road was a diverticulum, or side passage, leading to the Appian Way, an ancient Roman thoroughfare built in 312 B.C. The uncovered stretch probably led to a villa or a great estate, Ms. Russo said.
Archaeologists who worked on the dig have said that the unearthed road, which has grooved signs of ancient wear and tear from cart wheels, was most likely used for a few hundred years before it was abandoned. The skeletons of three adult males found in the gutter of the road, which have been reproduced in resin casts, are signs that the road had been abandoned, said an archaeologist involved in the effort, Pamela Cerino.
The skeletons, which have yet to be dated through carbon testing, were found with items including terra cotta tiles, that led to the hypothesis that the road stopped being used in the second or third centuries A.D., Ms. Cerino said.
She was hired by McDonald’s but worked under the supervision of the Culture Ministry, as is usually the case in Italy when private property is involved. McDonald’s spent around 300,000 euros, or about $315,000, on the restoration project.
The road was excavated, documented and enclosed in a gallery with a glass roof, so that patrons of the restaurant can look down on it. The entrance to the gallery is separate and can be visited by anyone, not just McDonald’s customers.
Given its remoteness from major attractions, the site is unlikely to attract many tourists, although explanatory panels in Italian and English have been installed throughout the site. School groups from nearby towns began arriving on Tuesday, when the site officially opened to the public.
The gallery is closed off by a gate and monitored with surveillance cameras, and McDonald’s Italia has pledged to pay for its upkeep. “That’s the most important thing, guaranteeing its constant maintenance,” said Ms. Russo, who added that Culture Ministry officials would periodically check on the site.
“It’s easy to excavate, the more critical operation is to preserve a site,” she said.
“We’re proud to be here, giving this Roman road,” said Mario Federico, managing director of McDonald’s Italia, who said it was the first time the restaurant chain had encountered the need for “a solution of this kind” in Italy.
Asked if he thought hungry patrons would be squeamish about seeing skeletons on display below, he said it was unlikely.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Pompeii Walls Crumble Under Rain and Red Tape - Mar 3, 2014

by Rossella Lorenzi

An emergency meeting has been called for tomorrow by Italy’s culture minister after a series of collapses this weekend have raised concerns about the fate of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.
Preserved under volcanic ash from a devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., and rediscovered in the 18th century, Pompeii is now crumbling — threatened by red tape and heavy rain.
An arch supporting the Temple of Venus, the Roman goddess of beauty, crumbled during a rainstorm on Saturday, followed by the collapse on Sunday of the wall of a tomb around 5.5 feet high and 11.5 feet long in the necropolis of Porta Nocera and another wall about 8 feet high and 13 feet long in Via di Nola, the major road.
All the affected areas have been closed to the public.
“Right when Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘The Great Beauty’ won the Academy Award for best foreign language film, walls tumbled down in Pompeii,” culture minister Dario Franceschini said.
“It’s a warning. We must believe in the beauty of our country and preserve it with pride,” he added.
Franceschini, who was appointed last month in the new government of prime minister Matteo Renzi, called for an emergency meeting on Tuesday to assess the damage, verify routine maintenance as well as the progress of the EU-backed Great Pompeii Project to restore the archaeological site.
Visited by more than two million visitors per year, Pompeii has been decimated by continuous collapses.
“For every crumbling that is reported, there are another nine that do not make news,” Antonio Irlando, president of the Cultural Heritage Observatory, told reporters.
In 2010 the collapse of the House of Gladiators caused an international outcry, raising doubt about Italy’s ability to properly protect its archaeological heritage.
The accident prompted a EU-backed 105 million-euro project to save the ancient city.
Although some conservation work started last year, only about 10 million has been used.
An innumerable series of complaints filed by companies whose bids for contracts have been turned down, have slowed the entire project.
But time is running short: the money needs to be spent by 2015, or funding will be withdrawn.
“At the moment, a plan to ensure strong drainage for rainwater is desperately needed. Without it, Pompeii is destined to collapse entirely,” Giovanni Puglisi, the head of Italy’s national UNESCO commission, warned on Monday.

The Latest Threat to Pompeii’s Treasures: Italy’s Red Tape - April 20, 2013

Pompeii Falling From Grace: Pompeii’s ruins are a Unesco World Heritage site, but despite money from the European Union, the Italian government is struggling to maintain them.
Published: New York Times: April 20, 2013

POMPEII, Italy — Destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, Pompeii survived excavation starting in the 18th century and has stoically borne the wear and tear of millions of modern-day tourists.

But now, its deep-hued frescoes, brick walls and elegant tile mosaics appear to be at risk from an even greater threat: the bureaucracy of the Italian state.
In recent years, collapses at the site have alarmed conservationists, who warn that this ancient Roman city is dangerously exposed to the elements — and is poorly served by the red tape, the lack of strategic planning and the limited personnel of the site’s troubled management.
The site’s decline has captured the attention of the European Union, which began a $137 million effort in February that aims to balance preservation with accessibility to tourists. Called the Great Pompeii Project, the effort also seeks to foster a culture-driven economy in an area dominated by the Neapolitan Mafia.
In a telling juxtaposition, however, a day before the project was initiated in February, the police arrested the head of a construction company hired to modify an ancient theater at Pompeii on charges of inflating costs and violating the terms of an earlier preservation project. And last week, a team of law-enforcement officers and labor inspectors conducted a surprise inspection to make sure that the local Mafia had not strong-armed its way into the restoration work.
Pompeii’s problems stem from its status as “one of the biggest and most important sites in the world,” and its location “in one of the areas with the highest concentration of organized crime in all of Europe,” said Fabrizio Barca, the minister for territorial cohesion in the caretaker government of Prime Minister Mario Monti.
Nevertheless, Mr. Barca expressed confidence that the program would be successful, and that it would prove that the Italian government could get things done.
“The project is going to reshape the way things are dealt with,” he said. “If we don’t preserve Pompeii, then the state has failed.”
Since the 1990s, a series of special administrations have been put in charge of Pompeii. In 2008, the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi named a special commissioner for the site, giving him powers to subvert routine bureaucracy. But the post was dissolved in 2010. This year, one commissioner was placed under judicial investigation on suspicion of using state money for projects that went beyond maintenance, like renovating an ancient theater for performances.
Watchdogs also question why several new buildings were built at Pompeii at great expense and with unclear scope, and whether a 2010 project, now defunct, to allow visitors to adopt some of the many stray dogs at the site was the best way to use part of the emergency prevention financing.
The investigations have also blocked some tourist-friendly initiatives, including plans to convert a villa on the grounds into a restaurant and another building into a museum.
Pompeii has “always been an emergency” since it was first excavated in 1748, said Grete Stefani, the current archaeological director of the site. The most recent crisis phase began in November 2010, when the so-called Schola Armaturarum , which housed an ancient military order, crumbled into the street after a period of torrential rain.
At a time when the decadent Berlusconi government was in tumult, the collapse hit a nerve, capturing the general air of decline in Italy after decades of deferred political and economic maintenance. Magistrates are investigating the collapse.
In Pompeii, about 10 houses, out of dozens on the site, are always open to the public, with a handful of others on a rotating basis. Conservators are repeatedly forced to shore up crumbling walls and water-damaged frescoes rather than plan the systematic maintenance of the 163-acre site to prevent sudden collapses.
“Pompeii is an appropriate metaphor for this country,” said Sergio Rizzo, a journalist at Corriere della Sera and an author of a book on the mismanagement of Italy’s cultural heritage. “It’s a beautiful place, a marvelous place that every country would like to have,” he added, “but it also reveals the workings of Italian chaos.”
Pompeii’s longstanding problems have stymied a succession of Culture Ministry archaeologists entrusted with its conservation. Stefano De Caro, who oversaw the archaeological work at Pompeii from 1977 to 1984, says the site’s woes stem from Italy’s shortsighted budget policies, which have kept it in a near-constant state of crisis.

“The fact is that Pompeii has been underfunded for 50 years, and gorging on funds every once in a while doesn’t help if you need to eat every day,” said Mr. De Caro, who is now director general of the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, or Iccrom, based in Rome.
There are also rogue employees and wildcat strikes. In recent years, several of the about 150 custodians have been sanctioned for asking tourists for money to show them areas closed to the public, the site’s management said. Under the terms of a 10-year-old outsourcing bid, the private company that runs the ticket office does not allow the use of credit cards, creating headaches for tourists and raising concerns about fraud.
On a recent sunny afternoon, the volcanic peak of Mount Vesuvius rose in the distance. Crowds of school groups traipsed through the site, which draws more than 2.3 million tourists each year, many of them cruise ship passengers on day trips. Ms. Stefani, the site’s archaeological director, summed up the challenges as she showed off a recent, stunning renovation of the House of the Gilded Cupids, whose many frescoed rooms face a central courtyard in the classic Pompeian style. “This is a city without living inhabitants to carry out the day-to-day care that any home requires,” she said.
The new conservation strategy of Pompeii will be focused less on restoring individual monuments than on comprehensive maintenance, including improved water collection and disposal. Conservators say that many recent collapses were the result of bad drainage and the slow erosion of the ancient mortar.
Conservation has been hindered by a hiring freeze, particularly of skilled restorers but also of lower-level maintenance workers. “It’s been a situation with lots of generals but no troops,” said Valerio Papaccio, an architect currently overseeing preservation.
Under the new works project, the Culture Ministry has hired more archaeologists and architects with an eye toward the future.
“The E.U. funding is a good starting point to overcome this situation, but it’s not enough to save the site,” said Teresa Elena Cinquantaquattro, the site’s superintendent since 2010. “The new hires are vital, and by programming restorations year by year we can overcome the emergency.”
She says that critics have ignored the challenges in maintaining a vast, open-air site, and that many hard-working staff members toil in silence and anonymity to keep the site functioning. “I don’t deny that there are problems, but there’s also been a lot of hard work done here,” she said. “Pompeii is so vast that it requires enormous efforts.”
Officials say the Great Pompeii Project has a better chance of succeeding where other plans have failed because it is a comprehensive strategy involving three ministries: Culture, Interior and Territorial Cohesion. Economic development officials examine the investment potential of bids, while Interior Ministry officials make sure they are awarded to companies without ties to organized crime.
There are also timid advancements to introduce private sponsorship at the site, much in the same way that the Packard Humanities Institute has made the nearby Herculaneum, also buried by Vesuvius, a model site for archaeological preservation.
But some veteran observers doubt whether Italy will ever be able to finish the job. “The city has been excavated to an extent that it cannot be properly preserved, so we should just rebury parts of it,” said Mr. De Caro of Iccrom. “This way isn’t working, and to maintain things the way they are means certain death.”

Restoration starts at crumbling ancient city of Pompeii - February 6, 2013

By Tom Kington

Los Angeles Times - February 6, 2013

ROME -- Conservation work at the crumbling ancient Roman city of Pompeii began Wednesday, a day after police announced a corruption probe into previous restoration work at the site.

The new preservation campaign, funded in part by $142 million from the European Union, follows a series of structural collapses at the popular tourist site near Naples -- including at the House of Gladiators, a building used for training the arena warriors, which collapsed into a heap of rubble in 2010.

The collapses have been blamed on years of mismanagement and underfunding.

Buried by falling ash when nearby Mt. Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, buildings, streets and even curled-up corpses were found preserved when Pompeii was rediscovered in 1748. Today, the site draws 2.3 million visitors a year.

But its deteriorating condition prompted the Italian government to declare a state of emergency in 2008, and experts have reported that custodians collect pieces of crumbling wall and hide them before tourists arrive each morning.

"About 55 years ago, it was possible to visit 50 areas at Pompeii, but only five today. We need a change," said Johannes Hahn, a regional policy commissioner for the EU who launched the new project at Pompeii on Wednesday alongside Italian ministers.

Work is beginning on two buildings, known as the Criptoportico and the Casa dei Dioscuri.

The fresh funding will be used to help protect the site from heavy rains that have contributed to the collapses, and to restore frescoes and increase security, officials said.

Hahn said checks would be in place to ensure that no money is siphoned off by powerful local Mafia clans. Contracting would be carried out with "full transparency," he said.

On Tuesday, police placed Marcello Fiori, a former site director, under investigation for possible abuse of office. Fiori, who was given special powers to save Pompeii in 2009 by then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is accused of improperly diverting restoration funds to the rebuilding of the city's ancient amphitheater using modern stone and concrete so that it could host open-air operas.

Also, a former contractor, Annamaria Caccavo, was placed under house arrest on suspicion of inflating costs by 400%.

Pompeii's decline is part of a problem shared by numerous archaeological and historical sites across Italy, due to slashed budgets and lack of personnel and safekeeping. On Wednesday, a small portion of a 16th century ceiling fresco at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence caved in when a workman put his foot through a floor above the room.

The fitful restoration and maintenance work at Pompeii contrasts with a different approach at Herculaneum, a Roman city also buried when Vesuvius erupted and where archaeological digs have been supported by the Packard Humanities Institute of Los Altos, Calif.

Restorers at Herculaneum have focused on continuous and less spectacular maintenance, including improving drainage to stop water infiltration, which has helped preserve the site.

Pompeii wall collapses, despite new conservation initiative - 22 Apr 2012

Josephine McKenna – Rome - The Telegraph - 22 Apr 2012

A 2,000-year old wall surrounding an ancient villa at Pompeii has collapsed – just two weeks after the Italian government launched a 105 million euro project (£86 million) to save the precious archaeological site.

The Special Archaeological Superintendent for Naples and Pompeii confirmed the collapse of the red-frescoed wall next to an unidentified villa in an area already closed to the public.

The collapse of the wall is particularly embarrassing for the government as it follows several other incidents at the world heritage site in the past two years.

There is growing concern Italy's ability to protect it from further degradation and the impact of the local Mafia or Camorra.

Giulia Rodano, cultural affairs spokesman for the centre-left Italy of Values party, said there was a need to restore state funding that had been eroded by government cutbacks.

"How many walls have to fall, how much rain or snow should we expect to see a turnaround in state finance for the protection of cultural assets," Ms Rodano said.

"Without a continuous state programme for the conservation and restoration of our archaeological sites, extraordinary and sporadic intervention with European or private funds risks being ineffective."

The latest initiative launched in early April is funded by Italy and the European Union.

At the launch Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, said the project was designed to secure the buildings currently at risk in one of the most important cultural site in the world.

"We want to ensure that this is accomplished through honest and capable workers and companies while keeping away the organised crime that is still strong in this area," he added.

Pompeii was destroyed when a volcanic eruption from nearby Mount Vesuvius buried the city in ash in 79AD and it now attracts more than 2.5 million visitors a year. The site has fallen victim to various collapses in the last few years, prompting criticism from both Unesco and the European Union

Italy Unveils Plan to Preserve Sites and Prevent Interference by Organized Crime at Pompeii - April 5, 2012

ELISABETTA POVOLEDO; DAVE ITZKOFF- April 5, 2012- NYTimes - NAPLES — After years of criticism that Italy was not sufficiently caring for one of its most famous, and fragile, archeological sites, the Italian government came out on Thursday with a long-term plan for the protection of Pompeii.

A team of government ministers presented the plan at a news conference in Naples that came on the heels of the approval last week of a €105 million, or US$137 million, contribution for the site from the European Commission.

The commission was alarmed by a series of structural collapses at the ruins over the past 18 months that drew the attention of news media worldwide and raised worries about the fragility of the ancient city buried by Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Almost as concerning, however, is the longtime influence of the Camorra, the Neapolitan organized crime network, in the region. In announcing their plan, government officials made clear the new measures were intended to ensure that the funds reached their destination, pledging that not one euro would make its way into illicit hands.

Most of the funds — €85 million — will be spent on the restoration and conservation of the site. The Great Pompeii Project, as the program has been named, “will show the European Union that Italy can spend for the future,” said Antonia Pasqua Recchia, general secretary of the Culture Ministry.

The officials also said the influx of European Union money should also help stimulate the economy in an economically depressed area where the unemployment rate is nearly 17 percent, well above the national rate of more than 9 percent. Youth unemployment in 2011 was 37 percent, the highest in Italy.

“We hope to trigger a process that will assist the local youth who don’t have jobs, but before that happens, Pompeii must remain standing, that is the point of this project,” said Prime Minister Mario Monti at a press conference in Naples on Thursday. Four cabinet ministers also attended, a sign that the government was taking the initiative seriously.

“Moments of economic crisis can also be moments of opportunity, if we show that there is a South that wants to redeem itself from accusations of wastefulness and demonstrate that it can use public resources well,” said the Naples mayor, Luigi de Magistris.

Italy’s southern regions have had a hard time shaking off a widely held reputation of corruption and misspending of public funds that has mired it in negative economic growth for years.

Concerns that the Camorra could infiltrate the companies that win the bids for the public works at Pompeii led to the establishment of protocol announced Thursday.

Fernando Guida, the Interior Ministry official appointed as an anti-Camorra watchdog said, “experience has taught us” that subcontracts and construction works in particular “are areas that attract the interest of organized crime.”

Not everyone is convinced that the project will have the desired effect. Antonio Irlando, an architect whose organization monitors Pompeii said he was concerned that it did not sufficiently guarantee the day-to-day maintenance of the site. “This is a strange country, to do normal things you have to resort to extraordinary measures,” he said.