Italy's ancient monuments risk collapse, experts warn

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The Independent Travel

The collapse of an ancient house in Pompeii prompted Italy's heritage experts on Monday to warn that many other monuments, including Bologna's twin towers, Florence's Cathedral and Nero's Golden House in Rome, could follow.

"With no maintenance and non-existent funds, the whole of Italy is at risk of collapsing," Alessandra Mottola Molfino, head of Our Italy, a not-for-profit campaigning organisation, told AFP.

"Every single historical monument in the country is at risk of the same fate as Pompeii, from the dome of Florence Cathedral to Nero's Golden House in Rome and the ancient walls in cities like Lucca in Tuscany" she said.

"Only St. Peter's in Rome and the cathedral in Milan will be saved, because they have workshops dedicated to looking out for every little crack and ready to intervene immediately," she added.

Mottola Molfino said the government has failed to hire specialised restorers or architects to maintain and repair the country's sites and disregards the effect urban planning has on the monuments.

"The two towers in Bologna are right in the middle of a busy road intersection where many heavy vehicles trundle past night and day, causing untold damage to the ancient structures," she said.

In May, the National Archaeological Association (ANA) drew up a list of the most ancient sites in Italy, all of which it said are either unprotected from harsh weather conditions or in a serious state of deterioration.

The house at Pompeii, once owned by gladiator Marcus Lucretius Fronto, whose victories in battle and love were scrawled in graffiti on its facade, collapsed at the weekend following heavy rains.

Italy's Culture Minister Sandro Bondi, who blamed the collapse on the restoration in reinforced concrete during the 1950s as well as bad weather, warned that other parts of the celebrated archaeological site were at risk.

Amid sharp debate over whether the building in the Roman city destroyed by the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD could have been saved, cultural and heritage experts warn that at least 40 other ancient sites are at risk across the country.

"Negligence and a lack of the most basic maintenance is causing irreversible damage to our archeological patrimony," Tsao Cevoli, head of ANA, said in a statement.

Earlier this year, a slab of ancient lime plaster fell off the Colosseum, the huge amphitheatre that is one of Rome's most popular tourist sites.

In July, officials announced a plan to raise 25 million euros (32 million dollars) to restore the crumbling symbol of the Italian capital.

Bondi said sponsors must be found to help fund the work in the difficult economic climate.

The government is cutting a total of 280 million euros (398 million dollars) in culture budgets over the next three years, including 58 million euros a year from the culture ministry alone.

The Italian Environment Fund (FAI), a non-governmental group, called on the government not to react to the collapse of the Gladiator House by "allocating emergency funds or special laws" but to reverse the cuts to the cultural sector.

"Do we need any more tragic signs before the government will put an end to decades of criminal stubbornness which have systematically weakened conservation projects?" Ilaria Borletti Buitoni, head of FAI, said in a statement.

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