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Ensuring that a building stays in good condition usually depends on the people who live there and relies on their constant care and attention. Unfortunately, the inhabitants of Herculaneum died a long time ago and, in addition, the AD79 eruption, which buried the buildings, has damaged essential infrastructure, such as the roofs of buildings and the rainwater drainage system. The eruption also made it difficult to access the ancient town: today the archaeological site lies 20 metres lower than the modern city. Finally, while the extensive restoration work undertaken during or immediately after excavation created the Roman town that we can still visit today, it has often been the source of further conservation problems.
The Soprintendenza faces a huge challenge in ensuring the care of the site and over the last decades it has been hindered by both organisational limits and a serious shortage of human, financial and intellectual resources. As a result, when the Herculaneum Conservation Project became active in 2002, it immediately became clear to the team that because the site was in such a state of decay that the development of proposals for long-term conservation (such as the Insula Orientalis I case study) needed to be accompanied by an immediate campaign across the entire site which would tackle the most serious situations.
This campaign aims to re-establish functioning infrastructures, reduce the major causes of decay (particularly rainwater) and launch routine maintenance, while simplifying its management in practical terms and optimising the resources available. The site-wide campaign also aims to tackle the most urgent situations for structures (walls, roofs, etc.) and decorative features (mosaics, frescos, plasters, etc.), by mapping problems and simultaneously carrying out specific works to resolve them, organized by typology and by area.
Today this campaign has achieved its primary aim of returning the site to a general level of stability and where it can be managed by re-establishing a maintenance programme. This now allows longer-term issues to be tackled, such as the improvement of conservation methodology through a programme of scientific research and complete restoration projects.
The challenge that the Herculaneum Conservation Project is currently addressing is how this emergency works campaign can be transformed into a maintenance programme that the Soprintendenza can gradually take over (we are currently in a phase of joint programming).