At any given point of time there are literally dozens if not in the hundreds of conservation projects occurring around the globe. Of these, one of the best known sites is perhaps that of the city of Pompeii. Once a thriving, coastal city on the bay of Naples, its greatest renown came following its destruction, when during the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius it was buried among tons of volcanic ash, mud and rock. Here it remained, almost forgotten for over 1,500 years in a remarkable state of preservation. It seems ironic now to think that although this eruption completely obliterated city, it was also the cause of its longevity and indeed its survival over the centuries.
Covering approximately sixty-six hectares, Pompeii is an open-air museum of fifteen hundred buildings, comprising one million square meters of walls adorned with twenty thousand square meters of frescoes. Pompeii desperately needs repair. Not only is the area unstable geologically, but the ruins have been exposed to the weather for nearly 250 years. Like living cities, ancient Pompeii requires continuing public works and surveillance. Excavated since 1748, it has never had a concerted conservation effort commensurate with its scale. (World Monuments fund 1996:17)
Since its discovery, or rather rediscovery and excavation in 1748, marked levels of deterioration have continuously occurred, both through natural forces, such as light exposure affecting paintings and through the natural wearing of buildings by processes of weathering, erosion and water damage. Additionally human activity, unfortunately inclusive of inappropriate excavation and reconstruction methods, has taken its toll on the site. Though much of this is termed accidental, often the result of ignorance, other deterioration is as a result of deliberate acts of theft and vandalism. Each of these in their own way has contributed to the degradation of the site.
Although there are numerous conservation projects, endeavors and enterprises that either directly target or are associated with attempts to prevent further deterioration of Pompeii, – there is a great paper which outlines many of these titled “Conservation in the Shadow of Vesuvius: a Review of Best Practices”, which is in fact a summary of the proceedings and papers presented at a symposium held between November 20 to 23, 2003, by the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei and the World Monuments Fund (WMF), with support from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation – much of the focus on the removal of external forces affecting the site, as well as restoration of damaged artefacts and preventative measures.
In June 2009, Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, contrarily and controversially declared a moratorium on further excavations of the site (Dolan, 2009). Acting in his official capacity as superintendent, he declared that all funds present and future should be diverted into the preservation of the current excavated areas of the city, rather than to continue excavating more. The controversy surrounding this issue, which focuses on whether to adopt more stringent conservation measures or continued excavation, results greatly from the differences of opinion amongst historians and archaeologists. In arguments postulated by the Classicists, only through continued excavation can more ancient texts be found to reveal more about ancient Roman life (Dolan, 2009). Conversely conservationists, mostly archaeologists I believe, argue that many of the objects and materials that still may be uncovered, inclusive of those that have found and as yet still remain buried, such as unexcavated chamber of the Villa of the Papyri, are much safer remaining underground than they are being exposed. Furthermore they add that there is still much information that may be extrapolated from what has already been excavated without the need to put further strain on an already resource limited enterprise. Although minor excavations remain permissible no new sites have been opened for excavation.
This simple method of conservation, leaving them berried is perhaps one of the only available choices which would allow for the survival of this magnificent city. Following the continued collapse of vital areas and structures during the last several years, the prognosis appears bad, not only in the long term but also for the short. Should adequate funding, combined with the correct forms of professional and experienced conservators fail to be secured, this is one site that may in fact die for a second… or is that third… time.
World Monuments fund, 1996, ‘Most Endangered Sites 1996’, World Monuments Fund, New York NY. [online] Accessed 5 July 2013, http://www.wmf.org/sites/default/files/wmf_publication/Watch_Catalog_1996.pdf
“Conservation in the Shadow of Vesuvius: a Review of Best Practices”, Symposium Summary 2003, [online] Accessed: 5 July 2013, http://www.wmf.org/sites/default/files/wmf_publication/Conservation%20in%20the%20Shadow%20of%20Vesuvius%20a%20Review%20of%20Best%20Practices.pdf
Thomas P. 2010, Pompeii Gladiator Training Centre Collapses, Sky News, [online] Accessed: 5 July 2013, http://news.sky.com/story/818070/pompeii-gladiator-training-centre-collapses
Dolan, K. 2009, ‘The lost library’ kapito, [online] Accessed: 5 July 2013, http://katipoweb.blogspot.com/2009_06_01_archive.html