At around 6:00 AM today, the Schola Armaturarum Iuventutis Pompeianae on north end of the Via dell’Abbondanza, Pompeii’s main road, collapsed into rubble. Not just one wall or a part of the structure, but the entire thing. It was found when the custodians came to open the site for visitors at 7:30.
The house was an armory where the weapons gladiators used in the nearby amphitheater were kept in wooden cabinets. It was also used a club and training area for gladiators and youths learning the combat arts.
Thankfully nobody was injured — the building wasn’t open to tourists anyway — but the walls decorated with military-themed frescoes sure are. Two pillars on each side of the entrance were decorated with frescoes dedicated to the Julii. Inside, the frescoes depict weapons at the foot of a tree trunk, a tunic embroidered with newts and griffins, helmets, spears, a cart covered in polar bear fur surrounded by shields and spears.
The building was damaged by aerial bombing during World War II. The roof and the top of some of the walls were rebuilt in the late 1940s. Residual scructural weaknesses may be partially responsible for the collapse. Heavy rains over the past few months may have been the immediate cause, as they soaked the partially excavated embankment behind the building, putting pressure on its walls.
There’s a chance some of the paintings could be patched back together. Culture Ministry undersecretary Roberto Cecchi thinks that perhaps the frescoes on the lower walls might be salvageable, since apparently the epicenter of the collapse were the new walls and roof constructed after the war. (Yet again, 2000 year old Italian construction proves itself stronger than 60 year old Italian construction.)
Police have cordoned off the Via dell’Abbondanza and tarped the rubble to keep souvenir hunters and lookie loos away from the area. For now tourists can only walk up to the House of the Chaste Lovers which is about half way down the road, and which itself saw a wall collapse earlier this year due to pressure from a mudslide. Cecchi said in a statement that this is just more evidence that what Pompeii needs is a regular, dedicated maintenance plan, not state of emergency declarations and other such “special effects”.