The collapse of an ancient house in Pompeii has Italians worried about their archeological treasures and has prompted calls for the resignation of Culture Minister Sandro Bondi.
The house of gladiators, where fighters prepared for combat, was buried when the volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 and survived until 10 days ago, when it collapsed after heavy rains in the region.
The collapse was an apparent surprise to the operators of Pompeii, the city unearthed from under the debris of the Vesuvius eruption that is one of Italy's biggest tourist attractions.
The 2,000-year-old, stone gladiator house measured about 80 square metres and was decorated with ancient frescoes of military themes.
It's not the only ancient monument threatened by neglect and mismanagement, Amanda Ruggieri, a Rome-based writer who follows archeological matters in Italy, said in an interview with Jian Ghomeshi of CBC's Q cultural affairs show.
"Pompeii alone brings in 25 million euros to the Italian economy, and tourism is one of its biggest, perhaps the biggest, industry in Italy — it contributes one-third of Italy's GDP. So, [Italians are] concerned. They have reason to be," she said.
Last spring, part of the underground complex of Nero's fabled Golden Palace in Rome gave way, raining down pieces of vaulted ceiling on one of the galleries below.
A couple of months ago, three chunks of mortar broke off the Colosseum, hours before tourists were scheduled to stream through the gates. The ancient Roman arena is also being eroded by pollution and the rattling of subway cars.
The Palatine Hill is also a huge concern to archaeologists and structural engineers, who fear the once palatial homes of Rome's ancient emperors risk collapse because of poor upkeep.
Italy has more UNESCO heritage sites than any other European country but spends less on them than France or other neighbouring countries. Cuts announced this summer threaten to make that situation worse, Ruggieri said.
"These are ancient ruins," she said. "If they are left alone, they will collapse. That's what they do. So, there needs to be a lot of attention paid to them, a lot of conservation efforts done just to keep them standing up, never mind improving them."
Yet the Berlusconi government announced an 80 per cent cut in spending on exhibits and funding cuts of 50 per to cultural agencies this summer.
Archeologists and heritage experts are concerned, Ruggieri said.
"They're even more concerned now that these budget cuts were announced, these cuts that went through this summer, and they could affect the next two or three years in Italy," she said.
Culture Ministry workers staged a one-day strike this past week to protest the changes, and Bondi, a close ally of Berlusconi, faces a vote of no confidence.
Bondi is unrepentant, saying the Pompeii collapse was a result of "mismanagement." That may be partly true, Ruggieri said.
"The problem in Italy is funding, and when the funding is there, the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing," she said. "The different parts of bureaucracy don't work together as well as they really could. "
But Italy is faced with so many political scandals, the future of its archeological heritage may end up lost in the furor.