The ancient Roman city of Pompeii was buried by a volcano in 79 AD. That should be enough to destroy any town, but the city’s buildings were in fact protected by this coating of ash, and although it would never be inhabited again, it now bears witness to an incredible period of history. For thousands of years, the city lay virtually undisturbed, and protected from the elements and erosion. Excavations carried out over the last centuries have allowed the city to be once again buzzing with people, and even if this notion may appear romantic, the city is also affected by the elements once again, and that is a major problem.
Since it was freed from its ash coffin, Pompeii has not fared well.
The millions of yearly visitors, who flock to the site to see firsthand the living legend that is Pompeii, are causing erosion in a way that was not anticipated. The balance that had kept the city protected for so long has been disturbed, and it is now a victim of an unacceptable degree of damages.
This two-part project will look at this problem. Part one will explain the main causes and nature of the damages: World War II air raids, the earthquakes (especially 23/11/80), vegetation, water, erosion by tourists, atmospheric pollution, and restorations. Most of the information for this paper comes from Jean-Pierre Adam’s book, Dgradation et restauration de l’architecture Pompienne, which is a very thorough and detailed description of the degradation of Pompeii. Part two will deal with what is or should be done to prevent further damage and restore what has been lost, which includes proper restoration, control of tourists, and effective management of the site and funds.
Section 1: Causes and Nature of the damages:
Ideally, Pompeii should be in a bubble, where only highly trained archaeologists and experts could come in contact with it with gloved hands. But since that is impossible, some problems arise from having such a large area unprotected.
A) Air raids of World War II:
The bombing of several buildings during the second great conflict of the century caused damages that are still visible in some of the less known buildings, even after some restoration work.
The region of Italy where Pompeii is located is subject to many earthquakes and that causes a permanent threat to the aging architecture of the site. With each new earthquake, the structures become weaker and in a more eminent danger of collapsing.
On November 23, 1980, an earthquake of relative lightness hit Pompeii.
The earthquake was more then what the fragile architecture could sustain and severe damage was done, especially in region VII. Walls, roofs, and columns collapsed, often in a domino effect, one wall collapsing on another and so on. Many walls also suffered from cracks. The damage from this earthquake could have easily been limited had the structures been maintained regularly.
The Pompeian soil is very fertile due to an array of minerals. Not only is the soil rich, but the region receives more then its fair share of rain and sunshine.
That would not be a problem if the area in question was a farmer’s field, but for the ancient town of Pompeii, it is a major source of concern. These favorable conditions are all it takes for vegetation to thrive wherever dirt or dust permits. Amongst the species of plants that cause problems: the acanthus, whose much-used leaf ornates many a Corinthian column; the wild strawberry; the ivy; the field mint; and thyme. (See annex 1 for a complete list) Lichens and mosses are also found on the site.
Plants in Pompeii are found everywhere: on bare soil, paved roads, and walls. The plants found on bare and open areas, like the forum, and the palestrae are the easiest to deal with.
There is little risk of damaging a structure and plants can often be used in these areas has an element of decoration. Also, in many of these, the passage of more then two million visitors yearly assures that the plants do not thrive. It is in the large open areas closed to the public, where the soil is thicker and attention minimal that plants grow .