The Decay Of Pompeii

Ingrid D. Rowland remarks that “Pompeii is not only the graveyard of an ancient Roman city; it is also, and especially, the graveyard of modern good intentions” due to lack of funding for site preservation and maintenance:

Some of this destruction is inevitable. Pompeii was so well preserved because it lay dish_pompeii buried for seventeen centuries. Having its extraordinary ruins unearthed has meant exposing them to the normal processes of aging that all cities face—wind, rain, plants, animals, gravity, entropy, chaos—without the normal defenses that homeowners provide by caring for the places they inhabit. Furthermore, Pompeii was not by any means an intact city when Vesuvius destroyed it in the year 79. A devastating earthquake had already struck the region in 62, and many of its buildings were still under reconstruction when the volcano erupted in a rain of pumice pebbles. There were earthquakes after the eruption, too, as the emptied mountain settled back down for another few centuries of inactivity. Thus the soil of Pompeii has preserved not a city interrupted in the course of normal life, but one caught in a state of total panic, and whose buildings had already been severely damaged.

What can be done to stop this decay?

On a geological time scale, not much. On a human scale, a great deal. In Massimo Bray, Italy finally has a Minister of Culture and Tourism who means business (one of his predecessors, Sandro Bondi, was mostly known for his soupy poems in praise of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi). There is reason to hope that the waste and neglect that have brought the buried city to its present calamity will stop, at least to some extent, with a more responsible Italian government in charge and a new preservation law on the books.

(Photo of excavation of plaster casts of bodies at Pompeii by Flickr user TyB)