Friday, April 10, 2015


Despite its name, the Villa of the Mysteries, arguably the best-known monument at the archaeological site here buried by Vesuvian fury in A.D. 79, has something to reveal.

Restorations completed earlier this year and presented recently have disclosed the brilliant colors as they existed at the time of the eruption, as well as repair work that was done on some figures in ancient times, preservation officials said. An international team of experts used both traditional and high-tech methods to restore the mosaics and frescoes and supporting structures in the villa during the two-year project.

“This is the most ambitious restoration ever because it involved all the rooms,” said Massimo Osanna, the culture ministry official in charge of the site.

Though Pompeii is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, drawing more than 2.5 million visitors annually, in recent years, the site has most often grabbed headlines when something went wrong, usually an incident involving the collapse of a wall after bad weather. The criticism has made Italian officials bristle, and the culture minister, Dario Franceschini, grumbled on Friday that since the world’s news media has been so quick to “shine a spotlight on Pompeii every time something negative happens,” he hoped the news media would be as enthusiastic in reporting the restoration of “a pearl.”

Controversy has hounded the caretakers of one of the world’s largest open-air museums practically since it was first excavated in 1748. Exposure to the elements and the wear and tear tourists have proved to be serious challenges to safeguarding the vast site, not to mention the damage from the eruption, the occasional earthquake and the Allied bombing in 1943. And all too often restorers are called on to remedy the unintentional damage caused by their predecessors. In the 1960s, for example, “concrete was seen as the great save-all — it’s taken years to remove old restorations,” said Antonio Varone, a former director of the excavations at Pompeii.

Three years ago, the public outcry over Pompeii’s state of health prompted the European Union to allocate nearly €80 million (about $86.5 million) for its preservation, topped off by Italy for a total of €105 million (or $113.5 million.) There’s a catch: the funds must be spent by the end of 2015, or be returned, and critics have accused Pompeii officials of dragging their heels. Officials in Pompeii said on Friday that a sizable portion of the funds had already been earmarked for projects, and they felt confident that they would be able to meet the year-end deadline.

The cash infusion also covered 85 new jobs for archaeologists and engineers, and six-month apprenticeships for 150 budding archaeologists assigned to organize thousands of artifacts that have been in deposits for decades. Sidi Gorica, a recently graduated archaeologist at the University of Bologna said working at the site, even if only for a few months, was a dream come true. “It enriches you,” he said.

Mosaics were restored one piece at a time, while frescoes were cleaned. Lasers were also used on the frescoes, in particular to remove layers of wax that had been applied since the 1930s, oxidizing over time to darken the colors. The restored palette is what Pompeiians saw when Vesuvius erupted, Mr. Osanna said, adding that the lasers also allowed restorers to determine that some figures had already been repaired in ancient times. “Problems of deterioration had begun before the eruption,” he said. Experts also used ultrasound, thermal imaging and radar to study the walls of the villa and gauge their level of deterioration. The results will be published in the coming months so that they can be consulted for future restorations.


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