HISTORIC treasures across Italy, from the fabled Golden House built by the emperor Nero to the Colosseum, are at risk of collapse.

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Italy fiddles while its treasures face collapse

The treasures are under threat because of official neglect and budget cuts, heritage experts say.

Archeologists and campaigners fighting to preserve sites that draw millions of tourists every year say they could suffer the same fate as the House of the Gladiators in the ancient city of Pompeii. It crumpled into rubble this month.

Among the most prized is the Golden House, which Nero built in AD64 after most of Rome was destroyed by fire while, legend has it, he played his fiddle. Its name derives from its decorative gold leaf. “The Golden House is in danger of collapse. It’s an enormous problem and would be a very serious loss,” said Alessandra Mottola Molfino, head of Our Italy, a heritage charity.

Experts say the building is vulnerable because rainwater leaks into it and many walls have almost disintegrated.

In March, a section of a gallery vault gave way after heavy rain. “The state spends virtually nothing on the daily, routine upkeep which is crucial to preserving monuments. There’s no money to pay for specialists to look after them,” said Mottola Molfino, an art historian.

Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government has slashed the Culture Ministry’s share of public spending from 0.23 per cent three years ago to 0.18 per cent, compared with 1 per cent in France. Yet Italy has 45 entries on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites, more than any other country — and eight more than France.

In Rome, three chunks of plaster broke off the Colosseum in the northern summer. The government plans a $34million restoration but has yet to find sponsors.

Other endangered landmarks include the Aurelian wall, the ruined emperors’ palaces on the Palatine Hill, and the twin medieval towers of Bologna.

The collapse of the House of the Gladiators prompted calls for the resignation of Culture Minister Sandro Bondi and for Unesco to send inspectors to Pompeii, which was buried in lava and ash by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79.

The Sunday Times:


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