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Pompeii collapse sparks anger over decline of ancient sites

A Roman-era house used to train gladiators in the city of Pompeii has collapsed, sparking accusations that the Italian government is not doing enough to look after the country's archaeological treasures.

The collapsed gladiators' house

The building lay just off the city's main street

A 2,000-year-old house used to train gladiators in the Roman city of Pompeii collapsed early in the morning on Saturday, prompting renewed concerns about the upkeep of Italy's historic sites.

The collapse of the stone building, on the main street of the uniquely preserved city, was discovered by guards before the site was opened to tourists for the day.

Experts have blamed the collapse on the poor state of repair of the site, saying that it underlines a shoddy approach to the maintenance of Italy's rich archaeological and architectural legacy.

Popmpeii with Vesuvius in the background

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried and preserved the city

The structure was believed to have been used as a club house by gladiators before going to battle in a nearby amphitheater.

Like the rest of the partially excavated city, it had been preserved down the centuries after being buried beneath ash and pumice by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Pompeii is visited by some 2.5 million tourists each year.

Officially known by its Latin name "Schola Armaturarum Juventus Pompeiani," the gladiator building had not been open to visitors but, with its fresco-decorated walls, was easily visible to tourists.

Rain and restoration work blamed

The structure collapsed due to a combination of "abundant rain in recent days" and a botched restoration of its upper walls during the 1950s, the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Italian Culture Minister Sandro Bondi as saying.

There was also some damage to the structure during World War II.

Opposition politicians criticized Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government, and Bondi in particular, for the degradation of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Tsao Cevoli, president of the country's National Association of Archaeologists, expressed "rage and concern" at what he called the "negligence" of authorities.

"It's an irreparable wound to the world's most important archaeological site," Cevoli said, adding that there were similar problems at other historic attractions such as the Colosseum in Rome.

'A forecasted collapse'

The Mayor of Pompeii Claudio d'Alessio expressed sorrow at "a forecasted collapse."

The Colosseum

The state of repair of the Colosseum in Rome has also been criticized

A perceived lack of investment and mismanagement of the site, as well as litter and looting have long been a source of concern among archaeologists and historians

Italy declared a "state of emergency" for Pompeii in July 2008, saying that it had fallen into a state of serious disrepair.

The designation allowed extra funds to be channeled into the site but critics say that the intervention program has been badly managed.

Author: Richard Connor (Reuters, AP, AFP)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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