Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Lessons for our future in history

When I married my wonderful wife back in 1998 we went on honeymoon for the holiday of a lifetime to Sorrento.

On one day of that holiday we took the local train to visit Pompeii, the ancient Roman city at the foot of Mount Vesuvius.

For anyone that doesn't know, in 79AD an eruption of the volcano whose shadow it stands in resulted in the city being covered in 6 meters of ash and pumice preserving the buildings (and many of their occupants) for many hundreds of years.

Over the past hundred or so years the site has been excavated to reveal in effect a living, breathing city giving a perfect picture of how life must have been like two thousand years ago.

In short there is nothing in the world like Pompeii and for it's uniqueness it can only be compared with other one off places such as, for example, the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty or the dome of St Peters.

In one of those awful bucket lists of things to do before you die visiting Pompeii is something which indisputably should always appear.

Of course, this leads to a major problem. Each year two and a half million people visit the city and this along with erosion brought about through weather means that the city is in serious jeopardy.

In this past couple of months four buildings in the city have simply collapsed and many others have significantly deteriorated. A city which has stood hidden and unchanged for two millenium is literally beginning to crumble to dust after just one hundred years of our guardianship.

There is an answer however, preservation can be carried out but it does not come cheap.

Pompeii currently has a huge annual budget of $103 million, unfortunately to be able to preserve the city for future generations it is going to take double that. Without $200 million a year Pompeii is in real danger of falling down and a real treasure will be lost forever.

There are many questions we need to consider and I must confess I don't know the answers.
  • Should it be the responsibility of a nation or the whole world to preserve the site?
  • Should preservation be paid for through taxes?
  • In a finite budget can preservation of an historic site ever take preference over, for example, waste collection - or even healthcare?
  • Should we allow the site to simply crumble?
What I do know however is this:

The decisions made today may well be irreversible in the future. If Pompeii is allowed to fall down we will never get it back.

I don't know what will happen to Pompeii and of course it is an extreme case to illustrate a point which our own leaders are faced with at the moment.

The decisions that our Government are taking now will have far reaching effects that even if they are not irreversible could destroy the prospects of a generation.

My fear is that this Conservative lead administration are making glib money saving ideological choices which could see many of our young peoples chances crumble like the stones of Pompeii.

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