Great Pompeii Project finally under way
Conservators use laser technology to clean the delicate murals in the Villa of Mysteries
By Carlo Avvisati and Ermanno Rivetti. Web only
Published online: 30 July 2013
Conservators are using lasers to clean the delicate frescos in one of Pompeii’s most popular sites, the Villa of Mysteries. If successful, it could change the way future conservation projects are carried out there.
The Villa of Mysteries, first excavated in 1909, is named after a large and colourful cycle of frescoes showing young women undergoing an ancient Roman marriage initiation rite. Conservators are using laser technology to restore the colours to their former glory. Pompeii officials released a statement saying this is the first time the technique has been applied to such an important cycle of works a the site and that “it constitutes a viable alternative for preserving surfaces that might be too sensitive for [traditional] mechanical and chemical methods of conservation”. The laser is able to detect and remove the different protective layers that have been applied to the frescos by previous restorers. A spokesman confirmed that the restoration work, which is scheduled to end in October, is going well so far.
Similar laser technology was used on an unusually large scale to clean the courtyard of the palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian in Split, Croatia (see link above).
The Neapolitan Superintendency, the regional arm of the ministry of culture which is responsible for heritage and archaeological sites in and around the Naples area, is overseeing the project and is single-handedly funding the €900,000 restoration costs, which include conventional cleaning of other decorative elements, such as mosaics. The villa that houses the frescoes will stay open to visitors while the work is being done.
The news is especially welcome given the recent controversies and scandals that have tarnished the reputation of one of the world’s most well known archaeological sites. Work ground to a halt last year because of a lack of professional staff as Italian and international experts decried the state of the ancient town, which was so bad that some ancient buildings had started to collapse, including the House of the Gladiators.
Further embarrassment came when Annamaria Caccavo, the head of the firm Caccavo srl, which had secured contracts for conservation projects in Pompeii, was arrested and charged with corruption and fraud in February. The former special commissioner, Marcello Fiori, and the former director of conservation, Luigi D’Amora, are also under investigation for overspending, awarding irregular contracts to Caccavo and authorising unnecessary work on the site. Meanwhile, the European Union has given €105m of funding to kick start the stagnant “Great Pompeii Project”, which finally seems to be under way.
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