Please don't privatise Pompeii

These Italian ruins should be preserved, but not turned into a theme park, writes Stephen Moss.

I went to Pompeii last month. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

The scale is staggering: an entire city frozen in time, at that moment in AD79 when Vesuvius called forth apocalypse on its fleeing inhabitants.

I spent seven hours there and felt I’d barely scratched the surface.

I literally scratched the surface, too. I was so moved by the visit that I wanted to take a few small pieces of broken Roman wall away with me—this wasn’t quite vandalism as they were already on the floor—so I put them in my pocket.

Though concern about how I would explain them away at Naples airport meant I didn’t remove them from Pompeii.

The recent news that a house in the city, the so-called House of the Gladiators, had fallen down made me glad I hadn’t.

The collapse, probably caused by the ferocious Neapolitan rain, is a warning to Pompeii’s archaeological authorities.

Critics are using it as a stick with which to beat Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, suggesting he should show more interest in 2 000-year-old antiquities and less in 17-year-old nymphettes. Business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore has called for the site to be privatised.

The thought is monstrous. The beauty of Pompeii is that you are not assailed by adverts and people dressed in togas; it is not a theme park.

“The pleasure of being able to just wander is great,” says Mary Beard, author of Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town. She dismisses the idea that privatisation would be its salvation and calls for an international effort to protect the site.

She also points out that the British should be the last to moan about Italian mismanagement as they bombed the site in World War II.

Pompeii survived that destruction. Disneyfication would be a more potent enemy.—Guardian News & Media 2010


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