Finmeccanica will provide satellite and sensor technology to help monitor Pompeii's crumbling buildings

Satellites and sensors to monitor crumbling Pompeii

The ruins of Pompeii will be monitored by satellites and sensors to try to stop the UNESCO world heritage site from crumbling.

State-controlled Italian defence and technology group Finmeccanica will help train staff and donate its technology for free for three years in an investment worth up to €2m (£1.65m), after which the equipment will be left to the restoration project.

Regular collapses of walls and houses in the ancient Roman town that was covered by ash in a volcanic eruption in 79 AD have caused an international outcry and increased pressure for an end to delays dogging a €105m restoration project part-funded by the European Union and launched last year.

Finmeccanica will train staff to use high-tech monitoring tools that should flag shifts in terrain in the 1,500 buildings of Pompeii, so that archaeologists can quickly intervene to prevent collapses.

Soil movements, a major risk to the ruins especially during bad weather, will be monitored through high resolution images captured by the COSMO-SkyMed group of satellites, controlled by the Italian Space Agency, Finmeccanica said.

Technicians will build up a digital archive of the most important sites in Pompeii through hyperspectral imaging, which can capture the composition of different materials by measuring their electromagnetic radiation.

Site security will be able to access the information through a smartphone app, and vandalism or damage to the ruins will set off alarms.

The partnership with Finmeccanica is the latest of several examples in which private companies have stepped in to fund restorations of Italy's fabled cultural heritage to make up for a dearth of public funds.

Luxury shoemaker Tod's is helping to restore the Colosseum, jeweller Bulgari the Spanish Steps, and fashion house Fendi the Trevi Fountain – all in Rome.

"I invite other private groups to come forward and not use the excuse that there are too many bureaucratic hurdles [to sponsorship]," Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said on yesterday. "We are here, there are no more alibis."

Italy's most popular tourist attraction after the Colosseum and Palatine Hill, which attracted 2.5 million visitors in 2013, Pompeii was preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago and was rediscovered in the 18th century, but has become a symbol of decades of mismanagement of Italy's heritage.

Three walls and an arch supporting a temple crumbled last month. Faulty restoration work, especially following the Second World War, combined with weather, pollution, weed growth and visiting crowds, caused the city to decay, Finmeccanica said.

So far, €40m of the €105m available for the Great Pompeii Project have been allocated but the restoration hit delays amid disagreement over who should be named to lead the works, and yersterday Franceschini said that the project's deputy director, Fabrizio Magani, would be replaced. He had only been named to the post in December.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles