Pompeii collapse prompts charges of official neglect

Sun Nov 7, 2010 10:54am EST
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By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - Archaeologists, commentators and opposition politicians accused Italy's government of neglect and mismanagement on Sunday over the collapse of the 2,000-year-old "House of the Gladiators" in the ruins of ancient Pompeii.

Some commentators said the UNESCO World Heritage site should be privatized and removed from state control because the government had shown it was incapable of protecting it.

"Pompeii -- the collapse of shame," La Stampa newspaper headlined, echoing national opinion over the cultural disaster.

The stone house, on one of the site's main streets and measuring about 80 square meters (860 square ft), collapsed just after dawn on Saturday while Pompeii was closed to visitors.

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. Culture Minister Sandro Bondi visited the site on Sunday and said experts believe at least some frescoes could be saved.

Some 2.5 million tourists visit Pompeii each year, making it one of Italy's most popular attractions, and many have expressed shock at the site's decay.   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>