Government calls emergency at Pompeii
The cabinet on Friday declared a year-long official state of emergency at the archaeological site of Pompeii because of ''the continuing state of neglect and degradation the site has been in now for a long time''.
Culture Minister Sandro Bondi said the cabinet will shortly appoint a special commissioner to resolve the emergency at the UNESCO World Heritage site.
''The commissioner will deal with order, public safety and oversee the administration of the archaeological site,'' Bondi said, adding that Pompeii Archaeological Superintendent Pietro Giovanni Guzzo would remain in charge of the preservation of the ruins.
The cabinet's move comes in the wake of negative media reports about the state of the archaeological site.
Many of the ancient houses are covered in scaffolding for restoration projects that started decades ago, while Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported that of the 1,500 houses in Pompeii, ''if you find two out of every ten open it's like winning the lottery''.
According to Antonio Irlando, president of the regional observatory for artistic patrimony, the 2,000-year-old site is slowly crumbling.
''We lose a minumum of 150 square metres of frescoes and plaster each year because of the lack of maintenance. It's the same for stones - at least 3,000 end up as crumbs each year,'' Irlando told Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
Pompeii suffers from poor signposting and inadequate facilities, with just three bathrooms over the 440,000 square metre site.
It has also been hit by the drop in tourist numbers in the trash-hit Campania region this year.
''All the Vesuvian sites show a heavy loss in the first five months of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007, and in general compared to the last five years,'' Guzzo said, adding that April saw a massive 19% drop in visitors.
Local newspaper Corriere del Mezzogiorno reported a fall in tourist numbers for June of 13% compared to the same period last year, but Guzzo pointed out that Pompeii did better than the rest of the region.
''In Campania the fall in numbers is well over 20%. Pompei is still one of the most visited sites in Italy,'' he said.
Over two million people visit Pompeii each year.
A row broke out between tourist operators and Campania tourist chief Claudio Velardi in March when Velardi suggested capping the number of people allowed to visit the archaeological site.
He told Corriere del Mezzogiorno that limiting the number of visitors to the ancient ruins was the only way to offer adequate services at the site, while revenue could be boosted by allowing entrepreneurs to make use of the Roman city to hold events.
Pompei tourism department chief, Vincenzo Piscopo, said the plan would destroy the local tourism industry entirely.
Pompeii, which cashed in 20.8 million euros in profits for 2007, is one of the main tourist draws for the region.
The city was smothered in ash and cinder by the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius.