8 February 2013, 13:38

Money spent on Pompeii restoration has disappeared into hands of Italian mafia

Money spent on Pompeii restoration has disappeared into hands of Italian mafia
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In AD 79 an eruption by Mount Vesuvius destroyed most of the Roman city of Pompeii. The ruins are a popular tourist destination - attracting more than 2 million visitors a year. Now 90 million euro - a third of which is European Union money - has been invested to save the world heritage site - which has been in serious danger of decay due to lax restoration. Money spent on previous restoration has allegedly disappeared into the hands of the Italian mafia. Shirin Wheeler is a spokesperson for EU Regional Affairs Commissioner Johannes Hahn - who has a special interest in the project and she told  about the restoration scheme.

The main idea is to create a strategic program to restore, to renovate and conserve the place. Pompeii is an extraordinary place. We visited it yesterday to see the launch of the works starting. The very sad thing about it is that back in 1956 there were around 64 various sites open to the public and now no more than 5 are open at one time because of the damage – mainly, things like rain getting in at the walls and eating them away. So there’re two aspects to the program. One is actually to get into the hydrological kind of technology of all this. You see very high-tech equipment – scanners, sort of things that you normally use in hospitals to look at where the problem is. Then there are less high-tech, more traditional means – people who do things like repairmen of frescos, that kind of things. They work on this as well. And this is important, because up to now the kind of works that we’ve had in Pompeii, that are progressively getting worse and worse, have been really emergency actions rather than very deep strategic preservation.

When you say “sites”, let’s be clear, you’re talking about, for example, individual villas that people could look at how the Romans lived? And now there’re just handful that are open. But you say “hydrological work”, I’m sure there’s more to it. I mean, what seems to be suggested in the international media is that basically this is dump proofing of old dry stone walls or Roman cement, which has been done inefficiently by people who have taken the money and run? I mean they’re cowboy builders of their day.

I think there’s a bit of truth in that, in the sense that there hasn’t been proper work done. There’s been a problem in terms of the actual archeological technical approach in the past – that’s true. And as you say, this is a region which is unfortunately infected by organized crime in many elements of life. And so in devising this project what we’ve done and what has taken quite a lot of time to do – which is why we actually only launched work yesterday, having approved the project back in March 2012 – was to set up a parallel with all the preservation work. What we think is very robust anti-corruption, anti-mafia infiltration system. What that involves is installing a supervisor who has come from the Ministry of Interior in Rome, so he’s not a local person, that’s probably quite significant. And he’s overseeing the project at every stage of it. The most important element of it that he’s already really got into is the bit where the contracts are given out to the various companies – that’s where you have to be particularly vigilant. And if we can get that part right, I hope that this investment will actually get to where it meant to go – not only that it will be good quality builders, but legal builders. And the important aspect of this is that this should revitalize the legal economy of the region. We want to create new jobs, this is really the point of region policy, it’s not to preserve historical heritage, it’s to revitalize the economy – new jobs, existing jobs, get more people there, increase accessibility and hopefully this could become a model for the rest of Italy and maybe Europe.

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1 December 2010, 14:07