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Pompeii's 'House Of The Gladiators' Collapses, Italy's Government Accused Of Neglecting World Heritage Site

11/06/10 07:56 PM ET  AP

Pompeii House Of Gladiators

ROME — A 2,000-year-old house in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, which was once used by gladiators to train before combat, collapsed Saturday, officials said.

The site was closed at the time and nobody was injured, but the collapse underscored a controversy over the poor state of Pompeii, one of Italy's main tourist attractions.

The office of Pompeii's archaeological superintendent said the collapse occurred Saturday at around 6 a.m. (0500 GMT). Attendants opening the site saw the collapse about an hour later.

The house, called by the Latin name "Schola Armaturarum Juventis Pompeiani," was closed to the public, and could only be seen from the outside, and it was not considered at risk of collapse, officials said.

Situated on Pompeii's main street, the site was quickly cordoned off.

Antonio Varone, director of Pompeii's excavations, told the ANSA news agency that officials were trying to "preserve up to the last fragment of the 'Schola Armaturarum.'"

There was no official word on possible causes. News reports said water infiltration following heavy rains in the past days might be the cause.

The 430-square-foot (40-square-meter) space was used by gladiators to train before going to fight in a nearby amphitheater, as well as by other athletes. It was also a storehouse for weapons and armor.

Pompeii was destroyed in A.D. 79 by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius that killed thousands of people and buried the city in 20 feet (six meters) of volcanic ash. But the ash also helped preserve Pompeii's treasures, providing precious information about what life was like in the ancient world.

The gladiators' house was believed to have been built near the end of Pompeii's life. It was partially destroyed during World War II, and the roof and some of the walls had been rebuilt.

The Culture Minister, Sandro Bondi, said some frescoes on the lower walls may have been preserved.

Italy has long grappled with its vast cultural and archaeological heritage, amid chronic shortage of funds, negligence and vandalism. Officials have had difficulty preserving Pompeii, which is visited by over 2 million people every year.

Only last month, Italy's most influential paper, Corriere della Sera, ran an editorial headlined "The humiliation of Pompeii" in which it said the cement works were damaging the ruins and that the last commissioner had ended his mandate in June.

Bondi called for greater funds for Pompeii, while the opposition was quick to blame the government.

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Filed by Alexander Belenky  |