The recent collapse of a 2,000-year-old house in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii has once again highlighted the sad state of repair of many historic sites in Italy. The 430-square-foot house was used by gladiators to train before going to fight in a nearby amphitheater. The house was also used to store weapons and armor. The gladiator’s house was most likely built toward the end of Pompeii’s life and was partially destroyed in WWII after which it had undergone some repairs.
The only injury was perhaps to Italian pride at having one of its main tourist attractions make the news for the lack of upkeep by the government or private donors. The collapse of the house underscored a controversy in Italy over the lack of maintenance at Pompeii.
The office of Pompeii’s archaeological superintendent said the collapse occurred Saturday, (November 13, 2010) at around 6 a.m. Attendants opening the site saw the collapse about an hour later.
The house located on Pompeii’s main street, called by the Latin name “Schola Armaturarum Juventis Pompeiani,” was closed to the public, and could only be seen from the outside. It was not considered at risk of collapse, officials said.
Antonio Varone, director of Pompeii’s excavations, told the ANSA news agency that officials were trying to “preserve up to the last fragment of the ‘Schola Armaturarum.”‘ The Culture Minister, Sandro Bondi, said some frescoes on the lower walls may have been preserved. Bondi called for greater funds for Pompeii, while the opposition was quick to blame the government.
There was no official word on possible causes. News reports said water infiltration following heavy rains in the past days might be the cause.
If you think back to your High School World History class you may recall that Pompeii was destroyed in A.D. 79 by an eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius that killed thousands of people and buried the city in 20 feet (six meters) of volcanic ash. As deadly as the ash was, it gave Pompeii eternal life by preserving the ancient cities treasures. The preservation of Pompeii’s artifacts has provided much information about what life was like at the time of the eruption.
Italy has struggled recently with its long cultural and archaeological heritage. There is a chronic shortage of funds which has resulted in many ancient sites being neglected. Add to that the vandalism that has occurred over the years and the thought by many that the limited funds of a bad economy should be spent on present day concerns and you will understand why many sites are deteriorating.
Last month, the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, ran an editorial headlined “The humiliation of Pompeii” in which it said the cement works were damaging the ruins and that the last commissioner had ended his mandate in June.
If you are interested in reading more about life in Pompeii, there is an excellent novel appropriately titled “Pompeii” by Robert Harris. I read it a couple of years ago and found it fascinating.
From Publishers Weekly
In this fine historical by British novelist Harris (Archangel; Enigma; Fatherland), an upstanding Roman engineer rushes to repair an aqueduct in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, which, in A.D. 79, is getting ready to blow its top. Young Marcus Attilius Primus becomes the aquarius of the great Aqua Augusta when its former chief engineer disappears after 20 years on the job. When water flow to the coastal town of Misenum is interrupted, Attilius convinces the admiral of the Roman fleet-the scholar Pliny the Elder-to give him a fast ship to Pompeii, where he finds the source of the problem in a burst sluiceway. Lively writing, convincing but economical period details and plenty of intrigue keep the pace quick, as Attilius meets Corelia, the defiant daughter of a vile real estate speculator, who supplies him with documents implicating her father and Attilius’s predecessor in a water embezzlement scheme. Attilius has bigger worries, though: a climb up Vesuvius reveals that an eruption is imminent. Before he can warn anyone, he’s ambushed by the double-crossing foreman of his team, Corvax, and a furious chase ensues. As the volcano spews hot ash, Attilius fights his way back to Pompeii in an attempt to rescue Corelia. Attilius, while possessed of certain modern attitudes and a respect for empirical observation, is no anachronism. He even sends Corelia back to her cruel father at one point, advising her to accept her fate as a woman. Harris’s volcanology is well researched, and the plot, while decidedly secondary to the expertly rendered historic spectacle, keeps this impressive novel moving along toward its exciting finale.