A PRECARIOUS BALANCE
Like many archaeological or historical sites, Pompeii straddles the difficult position of being one of Italy’s most famous tourist attractions and trying to preserve itself for future generations and further scientific study. No small or easy task for a place that hosts an estimated 2.5 million visitors each year and is often more like a Roman Disneyland than a World Heritage Site, protected as such since 1997. Along with always being exposed to the whims of the weather, the endless flow of visitors takes a toll on both the integrity and the physical well being of the site. And although millions visit sites like the Pyramids or Stonehenge each year, the visitors are usually not crawling all over the actual monuments as they are able to do in sections of Pompeii. It is not an uncommon sight to see tourists pocketing loose mosaic stones or other objects to take back home with them. And although the reasoning is that such actions are small and harmless, they actually cause irreparable damage. Add to that a permanent lack of money and poor management and you have all the ingredients of a slow burning ongoing archaeological disaster, with no satisfactory or easy solutions. An attitude of ‘see it while you can’ prevails, for perhaps someday Pompeii will have to have restricted access or even eventually be closed. One only needs to think of the example of the mismanagement of the Lascaux cave to see how one of the world’s most valuable cultural sites can be destroyed through an inability to effectively solve the problems of balancing the desire to have access to such a site and yet protect it from further harm. At least at Lascaux a duplicate model of the cave has served somewhat to satisfy the desire of people to experience the prehistoric art, but due to incredibly poor management decisions the original cave is on the brink of total destruction. One can only hope that those who are responsible for the preservation of Pompeii will do a better job in the future of managing very difficult options.
Photo taken in Pompeii, Italy during a visit in 1996.
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