A 2,000-year-old ancient Roman house used by gladiators before fighting to the death has collapsed in the buried city of Pompeii, further fuelling claims the site is badly managed.
By Nick Pisa Daily Telegraph in Rome
4:32PM GMT 07 Nov 2010
The stone house, known as Schola Armaturarum Juventus Pompeiani, crumbled into a pile of rubble and dust in the early hours of Saturday morning before visitors were allowed in.
Although the house is closed to the public, it was a popular site in the city – buried by an eruption from nearby Mt Vesuvius in AD79 – because of its beautiful gladiator frescoes painted on the outside walls.
Pompeii, south of Naples is a unique historical site and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list but for decades it has been allowed to fall into ruin and disrepair.
Today more than 250 years after it was discovered, 40% of the city – which if fully excavated would give a unique insight into ancient Roman life – is closed or yet to be examined.
Italy's president Giorgio Napolitano called the collapse "a shame" and it came after an expose last month by newspaper Corriere della Sera that said Pompeii was an international embarrassment because of the mismanagement.
Officials at the site have blamed the collapse on a lack of funds but the Culture Minister Sandro Bondi insisted after visiting Pompeii on Sunday that funds were adequate and management were to blame.
Minister Bondi added that if there was any evidence that he "was responsible" then he would resign saying: "I stand by the work that has been done here."
He said the probable cause was rain water that had infiltrated the House of the Gladiators when it was restored with cement at the end of the Second World War after suffering bomb damage.
Officials said they were "hopeful" that the frescoes could be saved with Professor Christopher Smith, the director of the British School in Rome which carried out digs across Italy offering his help and knowledge.
Professor Smith, has not worked at Pompeii but the School is known for its dig at nearby Herculaneum which was also buried in the same eruption of Mt Vesuvius and is much better preserved and maintained.
Professor Smith said: "It's extremely sad to see what has happened at Pompeii, which is clearly suffering problems from its maintenance. Pompeii is a site of world heritage and we would be more than happy to offer our experience.
"Archeological sites are always at risk when they are open to the elements but the problems at Pompeii have been going back for decades and our experience is that you need a good plan for maintenance and administration."
Professor Smith added: "Unless there is a proper plan put into action I'm very sad to say that we will see this sort of thing happen again – buildings that are at risk must be secured or they will collapse."
On Sunday the site – which has more than two million visitors a year – was open to the public but TV footage showed many buildings held up by rickety-looking scaffolding, roped off or closed with wrought iron gates.
In 2008 Silvio Berlusconi's government put just over two billion euros aside for heritage conservation but this year it was cut to 1.7 billion in a bid to save money – with two million euros earmarked for Pompeii.
Two years ago the government declared a state of emergency for Pompeii and it lasted until 2009 with extra funds and special measures but critics have said the special intervention was badly managed.
Historians said that collapsed building would have been the residence for gladiators in Pompeii.
It would have been where they trained and relaxed before fighting in the nearby arena, and trophies would have been on display.
The collapse of the House of the Gladiators comes just eight months after part of the Domus Aurea, or Nero's Golden Palace, crumbled in the centre of Rome, again after rain infiltration.