The Italian government declared a state of emergency at the Pompeii archaeological site on Friday to try to rescue one of the world's most important cultural treasures from decades of neglect.
A cabinet statement said it would appoint a special commissioner for Pompeii, the Roman city buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Archaeologists and art historians have long complained about the poor upkeep of the Pompeii treasures, plagued by lack of investment, weeds, litter, graffiti and looting. Bogus tour guides and illegal parking attendants also plague visitors.
Some 2.5 million tourists visit Pompeii each year and many have expressed shock at the poor conditions at the site.
A report in daily Corriere della Sera said many of the 1,500 houses, including some of the most famous ones, at the site are closed to the public, its frescoes are fading and restoration work that began in 1978 has yet to be completed.
The "state of emergency", which the government said would last for a year, allows for extra funds and special measures to be taken to protect the site.
"Every year at least 150 square metres of fresco and plaster work are lost for lack of maintenance," Antonio Irlando, a regional councillor responsible for artistic heritage, told the newspaper.
"The same goes for stones: at least 3,000 pieces every year end up disintegrating," he said.
Two-thirds of the 66 hectare (165 acre) town, home to some 13,000 people in the Roman era, have been uncovered since serious excavations began 260 years ago.
The remaining third is still buried, but Corriere said the ground above it is being used as an illegal rubbish dump scattered with tyres, fridges and mattresses.
The nearby city of Naples and its surroundings have been the scene of a long-running garbage crisis as tonnes of trash has piled up on streets because of a lack of sufficient dumps.
Efforts to open new dumps have met fierce resistance from locals and sparked clashes with police.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has promised to clean up the Naples area, whose image and tourist industry has suffered greatly because of the garbage crisis.
Last Mod: 05 Temmuz 2008, 11:45