Wall collapse in Pompeii renews worries for site

ROME Mon Oct 24, 2011 5:37am EDT

ROME (Reuters) - Part of a Roman wall in Pompeii's ancient ruins has collapsed, authorities said on Saturday, a year after a gladiator house in the site crumbled and embarrassed Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government.

A chunk of the exterior of a perimeter wall in the Porta Nola area crumbled overnight between Thursday and Friday after bad weather in the area, Pompeii's archaeological superintendent department said in a statement.

The collapse involved a roughly four metre-by-two metre (four yard-by-two yard) portion of wall in an area that is less frequented by tourists.

The damage was "limited and contained", the statement said.

The latest episode comes after four other collapses last year at the 2,000-year-old Roman ruin -- including that of the "House of the Gladiators" -- exposed growing decay at the ancient city buried by Mount Vesuvius's eruption in 79 A.D.

The collapses and subsequent accusations of neglect and mismanagement of the site helped trigger a no-confidence vote against Berlusconi's culture minister in January. The minister, Sandro Bondi, survived that vote but resigned in March.

Berlusconi himself is hanging on for survival as a worsening debt crisis and an unpopular austerity plan add to the premier's own legal troubles and sex scandals.

The new culture minister, Giancarlo Galan, said Pompeii was a priority for his ministry, but his statement was met with derision from opposition lawmakers who accused the government of being unable to protect Italy's archaeological sites.

"Unfortunately it is a demonstration of the state of abandon in which our heritage finds itself," said Matteo Orfini from the centre-left opposition Democratic Party.

The UNESCO world heritage site has been hurt by poor maintenance and a lack of funds for years.

The city, once home to about 13,000 people, was buried under ash, pumice, pebbles and dust by the force of an eruption equivalent to some 40 atomic bombs. It was undiscovered for almost 1,700 years until excavations began in 1748.

(Reporting by Laura Viggiano, Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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