Outrage over plan to dump rubbish at Hadrian's villa

Campaigners say World Heritage site is threatened as Rome tries to find new home for waste overflow

Emperor Hadrian, the famously cultured Hellophile, is probably spinning in his tomb by the banks of the Tiber.

If the current state of his beloved Greece weren't enough, his celebrated Tivoli villa complex, a World Heritage site, is about to suffer the indignity of having Europe's biggest rubbish dump arrive next door.

Unesco says the second century Villa Adriana, 15 miles east of Rome, "uniquely brings together the highest expressions of the material cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world". But that hasn't prevented years of neglect and degradation, which have prompted comparisons with the crumbling state of the Pompeii site 130 miles to the south. Now, with Rome's main dump at full capacity, local authorities are planning to use the site at Corcolle, 700 metres from Villa Adriana, to take the overflow – infuriating heritage and environmental campaigners. A "Save Hadrian's Villa" petition has already gathered more than 6,000 signatures from historians and archaeologists.

But the architect of the plan for the new rubbish dump, Giuseppe Pecoraro, the Prefect of Rome, appeared to be sticking to his guns last week and said work should begin within a few months. "Either there's a new waste site at Corcolle or they'll be a refuse emergency in Rome," he said.

Andrea Carandini, the head of the Superior Council for Cultural Heritage, which advises the culture ministry, has said he will quit if the site goes ahead.

He would be "doubly disillusioned", he told La Stampa newspaper. "This is not a government of nouveau riche or the ignorant but an administration of professors and well-qualified people," he said, comparing the previous Berlusconi government, which was frequently panned for the low priority it gave to arts and heritage, with the current technical administration that is full of academics.

Ministers do appear to be waking up to the strength of the protests. "Hadrian's Villa and its surroundings must not be disfigured. We cannot allow an international wave of protests," the Culture Minister, Lorenzo Ornaghi, told La Repubblica newspaper after visiting the site on Thursday.

His statement appeared to have put doubts in the mind of Premier Mario Monti, who earlier last week had given his backing to the new landfill site.

Rome's Mayor Gianni Alemanno also appears to be having doubts.

Another of the site's proponents, the President of the Lazio region, Renata Polverini, seemed happy to let Mr Pecoraro take the blame. "At this time the decision is taken by the Prefect," she said. "I'm worried about the protests."

Campaigners won't mind as long as the plans are overturned. The villa, which Hadrian used as his summer residence, was built starting AD117 on 200 acres of the Tiburtine Hills. Its classical style is thought to have been an important reference point for many 19th and 20th century architects.

Given the historical and cultural importance of the site, Mr Carandini said it was unthinkable that it should be put at risk. "We're talking about Villa Adriana, our Versailles, do you understand?" he said. "Do you think the French would agree to this sort of destruction? Never."

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