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New Mission: Saving Ruins from Ruin

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

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Concerned about inappropriate restoration at one of the world's historic treasures, a group of scientists plans to spend the next 10 years preventing the Pompeii World Heritage Site from “falling further into ruin,” including conservation work on its elaborate frescos.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the city of Pompeii, Italy, was buried under ash and lava ejected by nearby Mount Vesuvius. The volcanic eruption in 79 A.D. essentially “froze the ancient city, preserving it for centuries,” according to the German scientists who are preparing for the project.

Photos: Ralf Kilian/© Fraunhofer IBP

Scientists from the Technische Universität München and other organizations are involved in the Pompeii Sustainable Preservation Project, a program that includes stabilizing murals and re-landscaping areas of the ancient city.

However, the city—described as a “treasure trove” about life in ancient times—has fallen victim to wind, weathering, inadequate conservation techniques, and the traffic of nearly 2.3 million visitors each year, according to an announcement by researchers from Technische Universität München (TUM), Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and ICCROM (the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property).

Thus, lavish decorations that once covered exposed walls of the city have “visibly disintegrated,” the team says.

“Modern buildings are designed to have a lifespan of around 50 years. But in historical terms, that is a mere blink of an eye,” the researchers explain.

“We would like archeological sites like Pompeii […] to stand the test of time immemorial.”

'Inappropriate Restoration'

The Pompeii Sustainable Preservation Project will focus on “preventative restoration,” according to Professor Erwin Emmerling, TUM’s chair of restoration.

“To date, this has not been undertaken on an adequate scale,” he said.

Following a series of structural collapses at the site, a report released earlier this year concluded that “conditions that caused the collapses are widespread within the site,” according to a report in The Art Newspaper.

The report detailed “inappropriate restoration methods and a general lack of qualified staff,” adding that “restoration projects are outsourced and the quality of the work of the contractors is not being assessed.”


The team says it will use nanotechnology to stabilize frescos.

At first, the TUM-led team says it will concentrate specifically on one of Pompeii’s apartment buildings, known as an insula. The program will include site drainage and work on elaborate murals, frescos and small walls therein, the team reports.

Harnessing Nanotechnology

While the researchers intend to use simple, traditional building materials, such as lime, they also plan to use nanotechnology throughout the project.

For example, nanotechnology will be used to make the lime more fluid, thus stabilizing the frescos through backfilling, the scientists report. The experts further intend to conserve the topmost layer of the paintings using lime and silicon compounds.

Researchers from various disciplines will be working alongside restoration experts and archeologists during the project.

Additional Project Details

The ancient city will also be surveyed both on the ground and through aerial photographs as part of the project.

Seismic measurements will be taken to provide information on how the site will be impacted by future seismic activity.

Construction and structural engineers will also be supporting activities at the site. The researchers also note that suitable sites within Pompeii will be re-landscaped.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Building materials; Conservation; Decorative Finishes; Decorative painting; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Murals; Preservation; Research; Restoration

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