Second Pompeii wall collapses


Another part of the 2,000-year-old Roman-era site at Pompeii crumbled today, provoking more attacks on the Italian government from critics who say two collapses this month underscore the need for urgent action.

Officials said a 7m long section of a modern retaining wall in the garden of the "House of the Moralist" at the archaeological site collapsed after heavy rains in the area.

The wall, made of tuffo stone and mortar, was part of a perimeter area of the house complex, which is also known as the House of Epidius Hymenaeus.

The house itself was not affected by the collapse and the wall was not ancient. It was built after the second World War to repair the original structure, which had been bombed in the conflict.

Culture minister Sandro Bondi, who came under pressure to resign after the collapse on November 6th of part of the "House of the Gladiators," tried to play down the significance of today's incident. "We need to put what happened into context and avoid useless alarmism," he said in a statement.

Politicians and archaeologists still criticised the government, saying much more had to be done to protect the ruins of ancient Pompeii, buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

"Little or nothing has been done to protect this immense patrimony," said Claudio D'Alessio, mayor of modern Pompeii, whose economy revolves in great part around tourism. He said the government should have enacted an emergency intervention three weeks ago.

Art historians and residents have for years complained that the archaeological sites at Pompeii, just south of Naples, were in a state of decay and needed regular maintenance.

Italy's opposition has already said it would present a no-confidence motion against Mr Bondi, one of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's most loyal ministers. Mr Bondi has refused to resign.

Archaeologists and opposition politicians accused Italy's government of neglect and mismanagement at the Unesco world heritage site. "One thing that is absolutely clear about this whole story is the government's lack of interest in maintaining our cultural and artistic treasures," said Felice Belisario of the opposition Italy of Values party.

About 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.

Pompeii is dogged by a lack of investment, mismanagement, litter and looting while bogus tour guides, illegal parking attendants and stray dogs also plague visitors.

Two-thirds of the 66-hectare town, home to some 13,000 people in the Roman era, have been uncovered since serious excavations began about 260 years ago. The remaining third is still buried and many modern buildings have been constructed over it, making future excavations virtually impossible.