EU pledges $145 million to save Pompeii

The European Union announced Wednesday that it will give Italy 105 million euros ($145 million) to safeguard Pompeii. The money is part of a larger one billion euro program to support major heritage sites in dire need of conservation and will fund a four-year project to preserve the ancient Roman town.

The news comes in the wake of yet another wall collapse last Friday caused by the heavy rains and mudslides that have devastated Italy over the past week. Last when year torrential rains caused an epidemic of wall collapses, Culture Minister Sandro Bondi narrowly dodged a no confidence vote and promised moneys and personnel devoted to regular maintenance to stem the tide of destruction. Those promises went unkept.

Bondi resigned in March and now there’s a new Culture Minister, Giancarlo Galan. He has stated that Pompeii is a priority for his ministry, but his response to last week’s wall collapse was to say that the damage wasn’t bad and to point to the EU’s coming €105 million as the windfall that will keep things from getting worse. Archaeologists and heritage organizations are concerned that the additional funds may get bogged down in legislative battles, corruption, pork barrel trades and diversions. Pompeii isn’t broke; the archaeological park makes 70 million tourist dollars a year, even in an economic downturn. The problem is in the pipeline.

“Money and people were promised, but despite frequent announcements, neither arrived,” said Maria Pia Guermandi, a council member at Italian heritage organisation Italia Nostra.

“The hiring of new archaeologists to help protect the site was included in a new bill recently but was then omitted from the final text. In the meantime, funds have actually been diverted to support museums in nearby Naples.”

Teresa Elena Cinquantaquattro, superintendent of the site, said she was awaiting the arrival of 25 archaeologists.

Guermandi said the partial collapse of the wall had been caused by water infiltrating the stonework. “All it would have taken to prevent this was some waterproofing on top of the wall – simple, regular maintenance,” she said.

“Instead of waiting for €100m, the government could have freed up €10m to get started immediately.”

At the conference announcing the pledge, EC Regional Affairs Commissioner Johannes Hahn made a point of saying that his office would “constantly monitor” the allocation of the funds. Galan said that now that the money has been allocated, “it’s a matter of spending it in the best way possible, to make a good impression on the EU and to accomplish something important.” This plan, he argues, “will allow Pompeii for the first time to count on a project of great scope.”

The day after that press conference a chunk fell off the House of Diomedes, prompting Italy’s main labor union UIL to urge an immediately archaeological assessment of the entire site so that we have a clear idea of what condition all of the ruins are in. The culture ministry said the Diomedes collapse was a gradual detachment of the wall due to vegetation growth. Opposition political party Italy of Values pointed out that that’s not exactly reassuring since it proves that there’s long-term structural damage in Pompeii the ministry knows nothing about.