Pompeii restorers dig and scrub against clock as EU funding deadline looms

Sun Oct 25, 2015 5:13am EDT
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By Isla Binnie

POMPEII, Italy (Reuters) - Years of neglect at the ancient Roman city of Pompeii are being dug and scrubbed away in a last-minute bid to keep money flowing from a huge European Union-backed renovation program.

Workers in hard hats beaver away as tourists visiting the Italian World Heritage site peer through screens and wire fences at ruins of ancient houses where restorations are going into overdrive.

Submerged under volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, Pompeii is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world, giving a unique glimpse into daily life under the Roman empire.

But years of mismanagement and corruption have exacerbated decay at the sprawling, 66 hectare (163 acres) site, prompting the European Union to intervene. In 2012, it pledged 78 million euros ($87 million) to finance urgently needed repairs.

Italy threw some 27 million euros behind the Great Pompeii Project, which aims to rebuild collapsed arches, right sagging walls, clean frescoes and protect the area from water-logging.

Fast forward three years and only around 21 million euros out of the total 105 million euros on offer have been spent. Unless the site managers do the rest of the work by the original Dec. 31 deadline, they risk losing access to this money to pay for it.

"We are really working against the clock," said superintendent Massimo Osanna, an ex-university professor chosen by the government to take over in early 2014 to make a break with the site's scandal-ridden past.

"If the timing had been respected more at the beginning we wouldn't have this concentration of work that is causing problems now," Osanna said in a makeshift workshop where technicians are restoring plaster casts of Vesuvius's victims.   Continued...

A sign (R) hangs on a fence reading "Great Pompeii Project" along an ancient Roman cobbled street as restoration work goes on at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Pompeii, October 13, 2015.  REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi