STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
We have the latest coverage this morning on the fall of the Roman Empire. Who knew there would be breaking news on this subject? A 2,000-year-old building collapsed in Pompeii last month. Two more walls collapsed at the archaeological site yesterday. A few months before that, a chunk of Rome's Coliseum fell to the ground and the roof of the Emperor Nero's home crumbled away. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has more from Pompeii.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Every year, it attracts two and a half million visitors. Many come even on cold, rainy days like today. Walking along the ancient Roman road, visitors see many houses propped up by beams, some of them rotting. Luigi Necco, a journalist and archaeological expert, says Pompeii is in desperate need of constant maintenance.
LUIGI NECCO: (Through translator) Pompeii could crumble right now. It's always in danger - from rain, from the sun when its walls dry up, when the winds blow mercilessly.
POGGIOLI: Necco blames the government. The economics minister said you can't eat culture as he drastically cut ministry funds. Berlusconi's people, Necco says, have turned Pompeii into a flashy profit-maker, staging high-profile concerts and a gimmicky multimedia tour.
NECCO: Why have this Disneyland here in the center of Pompeii, the center of a tragedy, human tragedy, over 2000 years ago? Why?
POGGIOLI: Necco has this answer.
NECCO: Disdain for the culture, disdain for the past, disdain for the history.
POGGIOLI: Seventeen of Italy's 19 superintendants of archaeological sites signed a letter protesting what they call the commercialization of Italy's cultural heritage. Pietro Giovanni Guzzo is a former superintendant of Pompeii.
PIETRO GIOVANNI GUZZO: (Through translator) Nobody goes to a carpenter for an appendectomy. This government's focus on profiting from art has completely sidelined the experts, the only ones with knowledge of our heritage and who can help conserve it.
POGGIOLI: Maria Pia Guermandi, an official at Italy's oldest environmentalist organization, Italia Nostra, says Italy lacks the desire and the ability to conserve its vast art heritage. And she goes so far as to suggest it be put under supervision of the United Nations.
MARIA PIA GUERMANDI: (Foreign language spoken)
POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.
INSKEEP: You hear Sylvia's voice on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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