Thieves have stolen two Roman frescoes and damaged other priceless mural art in the ancient city of Pompeii, a spokeswoman from the archaeological dig said yesterday.
The theft is believed to have taken place between Friday and Saturday, said Raffaella Leveque, the spokeswoman. "We're all shocked, especially because such a thing hasn't happened for years" after security was tightened, she said.
Ms Leveque said that because selling such rare art on the open market would be almost impossible, one hypothesis was that the theft had been commissioned.
"This is 1st-century Roman art from Pompeii. It is not something you can find in the window of an antique dealer," she said. One of the frescoes is a round depiction of Cupid, the winged god of love, with a diameter of 33cm (13in). The second mural was a representation of a rooster pecking at a pomegranate, 47cm by 43cm (19in by 17in).
The works of art were on the ground floor of an insula, a Roman apartment building, and are from the middle of the first century, just a few decades before Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79 and buried the prosperous city, near Naples, under layers of ash. Other frescoes have been damaged by failed attempts to remove them from the walls.
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