Ancient Pompeii gladiator house collapses

Sat Nov 6, 2010 4:16pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - The 2,000-year-old "House of the Gladiators" in the ruins of ancient Pompeii collapsed on Saturday, sparking fresh debate on whether the Italian government is doing enough to safeguard a world treasure.

The stone house, on the main street of the famous archaeological site and measuring about 80 square m (860 square ft), collapsed just after dawn while Pompeii was closed to visitors, officials said.

Custodians discovered the collapse when they opened the UNESCO World Heritage site for the day.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called it "a shame for Italy" and demanded an explanation.

The structure was believed to be where gladiators gathered and trained and used as a club house before going to battle in a nearby amphitheatre in the city that was destroyed by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Known officially by its Latin name "Schola Armaturarum Juventus Pompeiani," the structure was not open to visitors but was visible from the outside as tourists walked along one of the ancient city's main streets.

Its walls were decorated with frescoes of military themes.

The building was damaged by bombs during World War Two and was restored in the late 1940s. Officials speculated the collapse was caused by heavy rains but most commentators said longstanding neglect was probably the root cause.   Continued...

<p>People stand near debris after a house, once used by gladiators to train before combat, collapsed in Pompeii November 6, 2010. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca</p>