Conservation and Preservation of the Pompeiian Arc Essay

This essay has a total of 3761 words and 19 pages.


Conservation and Preservation of the Pompeiian Architecture




The ancient Roman city of Pompeii was buried by a volcano in 79 AD. That should be enough
to destroy any town, but the city's buildings were in fact protected by this coating of
ash, and although it would never be inhabited again, it now bears witness to an incredible
period of history. For thousands of years, the city lay virtually undisturbed, and
protected from the elements and erosion. Excavations carried out over the last centuries
have allowed the city to be once again buzzing with people, and even if this notion may
appear romantic, the city is also affected by the elements once again, and that is a major
problem.


Since it was freed from its ash coffin, Pompeii has not fared well. The millions of
yearly visitors, who flock to the site to see firsthand the living legend that is Pompeii,
are causing erosion in a way that was not anticipated. The balance that had kept the city
protected for so long has been disturbed, and it is now a victim of an unacceptable degree
of damages.


This two-part project will look at this problem. Part one will explain the main causes
and nature of the damages: World War II air raids, the earthquakes (especially 23/11/80),
vegetation, water, erosion by tourists, atmospheric pollution, and restorations. Most of
the information for this paper comes from Jean-Pierre Adam's book, Dťgradation et
restauration de l'architecture Pompťienne, which is a very thorough and detailed
description of the degradation of Pompeii. Part two will deal with what is or should be
done to prevent further damage and restore what has been lost, which includes proper
restoration, control of tourists, and effective management of the site and funds.


Section 1: Causes and Nature of the damages:

Ideally, Pompeii should be in a bubble, where only highly trained archaeologists and
experts could come in contact with it with gloved hands. But since that is impossible,
some problems arise from having such a large area unprotected.


A) Air raids of World War II:

The bombing of several buildings during the second great conflict of the century caused
damages that are still visible in some of the less known buildings, even after some
restoration work.


B) Earthquakes:

The region of Italy where Pompeii is located is subject to many earthquakes and that
causes a permanent threat to the aging architecture of the site. With each new
earthquake, the structures become weaker and in a more eminent danger of collapsing.


On November 23, 1980, an earthquake of relative lightness hit Pompeii. The earthquake was
more then what the fragile architecture could sustain and severe damage was done,
especially in region VII. Walls, roofs, and columns collapsed, often in a domino effect,
one wall collapsing on another and so on. Many walls also suffered from cracks. The
damage from this earthquake could have easily been limited had the structures been
maintained regularly.


C) Vegetation:

The Pompeian soil is very fertile due to an array of minerals. Not only is the soil rich,
but the region receives more then its fair share of rain and sunshine. That would not be
a problem if the area in question was a farmer's field, but for the ancient town of
Pompeii, it is a major source of concern. These favorable conditions are all it takes for
vegetation to thrive wherever dirt or dust permits. Amongst the species of plants that
cause problems: the acanthus, whose much-used leaf ornates many a Corinthian column; the
wild strawberry; the ivy; the field mint; and thyme. (See annex 1 for a complete list)
Lichens and mosses are also found on the site.



Plants in Pompeii are found everywhere: on bare soil, paved roads, and walls. The plants
found on bare and open areas, like the forum, and the palestrae are the easiest to deal
with. There is little risk of damaging a structure and plants can often be used in these
areas has an element of decoration. Also, in many of these, the passage of more then two
million visitors yearly assures that the plants do not thrive. It is in the large open
areas closed to the public, where the soil is thicker and attention minimal that plants
grow with the most freedom. Some of the houses with restricted access have been
transformed in virtual greenhouses, with walls and roofs keeping in moisture and heat.


Many of the paved roads are not affected by vegetation, some plants being unable to even
settle between the stones. But roots from nearby trees have been known to affect the
alignment of the pavement stones. The problem is more serious when considering the effect
even the smallest plants can have on mosaic. If a mosaic is intact, no plant will be able
to take hold on it, especially if it is a wall mosaic. But if a piece falls of, say from
pressure from an outside root of a tree, plants will grow in the dirt that will be
wind-blown in the hole and will detach even more pieces. This can happen in a matter of
hours; just think of how fast dandelions grow on your lawn!



Plants can also be found growing on walls, taking root in cracks or between bricks, and in
the form of ivy. (See annex 2 for a representation of an affected wall.)


D) Water:

Water, not only has a nourishing agent to the vegetation, will cause damage on its own.
It causes water stains on wall-paintings. It makes deposits of minerals on walls. There
is also the repetitive action of the rain drops on the walls which first erodes the coats
of pigments, and then of the mortar that holds the wall together. Has if that wasn't
enough, when combined with the atmospheric pollution, it can become a powerful acid that
damages marble and stone. When the mortar contains argyle, the material absorbs water,
expends and can cause cracks and even collapsing of walls. Even if the houses are
protected by a roof, water can seep in thru the base of a wall, which explains why most
paintings are damaged on the lower portion.


E) Sun:

The sun causes the paintings to fade. Since many houses have lost their ceilings after so
many years, it is easy to guess the damage it would do.



F) Erosion by Tourists:

Not surprisingly, Pompeii is a very famous site to visit. With an average of more then
5000 visitors every day, with numbers sometimes reaching 22 000, like on Easter Monday,
the flow of tourist has to be taken into account.


The thousands of daily visitors, even if they were on their best behavior, would still
cause problems simply by walking around! Ancient unprotected sidewalks have been used
through, often leaving lead plumbing exposed, which is in turn broken, damaged or goes
missing. In most other Roman cities, plumbing would not have been so close to the
surface, but this plumbing was temporally installed after the earthquake in 62. Those
same sidewalks would have suffered the same fate in Antiquity, but a sidewalk would never
have gone without reparation and maintenance for millennia back then! Visitors also leave
their traces on walls, those giant backpacks scraping against walls, fingers running on
ancient frescoes. The passage of visitors is more obvious in small areas, and is less
evident on large areas, where the damage is spread out.


There is also the problem of vandalism and robbery. People leave their names, usually on
painted surfaces to make sure their legacy to posterity is readable. People also take
home little pieces of marble or of a mosaic, a task made easy by the work of plants.
Others just steal entire frescoes, like in 1977, when 14 frescoes were hacked out of the
house of the Gladiators. "It should have been a warning, but nearly 600 more items were
stolen from Pompeii over the next 15 years, according to the Italian Archeoclub, a
presevationist group."


There is also the problem of familiarity felt by the inhabitants of the region. It is
hard to be very considerate when Pompeii is the place you go every Sunday for picnic,
almost like a public park. Usually, these groups are only there for the view and will try
to isolate themselves from the tourists, often taking shelter in the restricted areas,
where destruction of the wall covering by a ball thrown on the wall was observed. Since
these areas are supposed to be restricted, guards do not patrol them has much, and
visitors often go unnoticed. The "Public Park" feel causes also a cleaning problem:
imagine twenty thousand people in a small town during a holiday. Archaeologists end up
having to do the cleaning work themselves, which is ridiculous.





G) Atmospheric Pollution:

The bay of Naples has one of the highest concentrations of population in Italy, with
factories, cars, and the likes. Like mentioned above, their pollution falls back under
the form of acid rain, which greatly affects marble and limestone. But the Pompeian
architecture was mostly built with local volcanic material, which is almost unaffected by
the acid rain. The problem lies in the painted wall covering, usually high in calcium
content; they react like limestone and dissolve.


There is also the problem of the proximity of the Naples-Salerne Highway which is next to
the site; the pollution from trucks and cars are bad enough, but the constant vibrations
from the passing vehicles also weakens the structures. The tourist buses that leave the
motor running, sometimes for hours, while waiting for the tourists to come back is also a
major problem.


H) Restorations:

This should not be here, but bad restoration is a cause of damage. Often, temporary
conservation attempts have become permanent, and are too weak and not up to the task.
Poor-quality wood is often used in an attempt to save money, but it just rots or brakes
under the pressure, often damaging what it was suppose to protect in the first place. The
delicate task of protecting wall painting was also sometime botched and led to more damage
in the end.


Section 2: What is or should be done to prevent further damage and restore what has been lost:

One of the most important thing to remember when doing conservation work is that every
thing we do must be possible to undo should a better technique arise.


A) Restoration:

All walls need to be consolidated. This is a difficult task since we must be able to
preserve every part of the wall which is still standing. Cement can only be used in total
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