Pompeii chief wants refugees to tend to Italy’s ruins

Refugees could soon be collecting litter from Pompeii's Via Dell'Abbondanza or weeding flower beds in the gardens of the city's luxury Roman villas.

Pompeii chief wants refugees to tend to Italy's ruins
A visitor walks along Via dell'Abbondanza. Photo: Nick Bramhall/Flickr

At least that's if Massimo Osanna, the Archaeological Superintendent of Pompeii, gets his way.

Speaking at an event inside the ancient ruins on Saturday, Osanna told politicians and reporters that he hoped the government would consider putting the some of country's asylum seekers to work within the cultural sphere.

“They already receive a daily rate from the government without being employed in any field,” Il Mattino reported the archaeologist as saying.

In 2015, Italy saw some 121,000 migrants arrive on its shores and has seen a further 50,000 land since the beginning of the year.

A significant proportion of all arrivals end up claiming political asylum in Italy, a process that usually takes between 12 and 18 months.

While asylum claims are processed, migrants cannot work, but they receive a daily allowance of €2.50 from the government and are given free housing, healthcare, education and training.

“At the moment they are paid to be inactive. Why not employ them at some of our cultural sites?” Osanna asked.

The cost of maintaining Italy's huge cultural and historical heritage is a headache for the government, which struggles to find the millions needed to fund a never-ending stream of maintenance and restoration works.

Despite being the country's most popular historical site with three million annual visitors, Pompeii also struggles for cash.

Last year, the ruins even turned to crowdfunding to try and find the €53,000 needed to finance the restoration of a bedroom, the walls of which contain an ancient graffito perhaps scrawled by the second wife of Julius Caesar.

Osanna feels working refugees could provide a great service for Italy's cultural sites and free up money for other things.

“Generally, refugees could carry out general work such as clearing rubbish and gardening,” Osanna said, adding that refugees and migrants would not just be performing basic services.

“Among the arrivals there are architects, engineers and even archaeologists who hail from extremely cultural cities but have unfortunately been forced to flee.”

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Wine, masks and debauchery: How did Italy’s Carnival tradition begin?

Towns across Italy are holding pageants and parades as Carnival season begins, but few people know the true origins of this festivity, writes Silvia Marchetti.

Wine, masks and debauchery: How did Italy’s Carnival tradition begin?

Masks, wild costumes, confetti, fried frappe and castagnole – Carnival’s back. But not everyone knows that these festivities date back to the dawn of time.

“At exactly the same time of the year, now, the Ancient Greeks celebrated the Baccanali, which they likely imported from Mesopotamia. Then the Romans turned the Greek partying into the Saturnali and Lupercali”, says Giorgio Franchetti, an historian of Ancient Rome.

READ ALSO: Beyond Venice: Seven of Italy’s most magical carnivals

During the Baccanali – feasts held in honor of Bacchus, or Dioysius, the god of wine – revelers would dance and get drunk on wine mixed with honey, which allowed them to let loose, free their souls and connect with the divinities and the afterworld. The wine supposedly sent them into a physical and spiritual ecstasy, a sort of purifying trance.

The ancient Romans took these wild events further. The Saturnali celebrations, in honor of Saturno, who was also the god of agriculture, coincided with the sowing of the fields and fertility rites.

“Lumps of earth would be overturned to allow the seeds to sink in, in the same way the Saturnali triggered an overturning of the established order, social roles and hierarchies: women would dress as men, men as women, slaves as masters, masters as slaves, and all partook in extreme acts”, says Franchetti. Wine and lavish meals went on for a week, and nobody, not even the slaves, worked.

Revellers in masks and costumes take part in the Venice Carnival. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

The destruction of the known order of things by allowing people to vent out their desires and instincts once a year was necessary to maintain the establishment of such order. Creating chaos was the only rule; it was a blank cheque to debauchery.

Italians still have a saying: “A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale” (during Carnival any kind of trick goes). Morality and taboos drop, transgression takes over, the boundaries between evil and good, profane and sacred, blur.

READ ALSO: Did Valentine’s Day really originate in Italy?

The Saturnali were the celebration of a topsy-turvy subversive world, where disguises and masks concealed identities and allowed revelers to act with total freedom and commit all sorts of mischief.

Sexuality plays a key part: extreme sexual activity and sex role reversal triggered a strong fertility force believed to regenerate nature ahead of spring.

February was also when the empire honored the Febbris goddess, worshipped by the pre-Roman Etruscans too as a bringer of purification.

“The Ancient Romans had another festival as well during our period of Carnival; it was called Lupercali in honor of the god-wolf Luperco, otherwise known as Caco or Fauno, whose cult hails back to the Etruscans”, says Franchetti.


Luperco represented the most vicious human passions and animal instincts, and in his name a free pass to perversion was granted to the people.

According to Franchetti, who studied ancient sources, during the Lupercali drunk partygoers would wrap themselves in animal skins, before taking them off to run naked across the Roman forum – men, women and slaves alike. Random coupling and animal sacrifices were carried out. 

The nakedness symbolized that, for one moment of the year, all were equal. Wars paused, famine became a momentary abundance of food. It was a break from the harsh reality of authority. During one such Lupercali it is said even Julius Caesar participated and foresaw his future coronation as emperor, as in a vision.

When Christianity came along it overlapped with these pagan celebrations, making the need for social release even stronger.

Catholicism regulated and integrated carnival into the Christian calendar, marking it as a pre-Lent festivity.  And Lent, the 40-days period of reflection and profound soul-cleansing in preparation for Easter with fasting and penance, stopped the wild parties.

READ ALSO: Pagan witches and Mussolini: Why Italy’s Epiphany holiday has a curious history

Franchetti explains that the origin of the term ‘carnival’ stems from the Latin ‘carnem levare’, meaning ‘farewell to meat’, to mark Shrove Tuesday, the last day when eating fat or meat, considered an extravagance, was still allowed before Lent.

The perception and existence of a tyrannical church that terrified sinners with images of hell and punished vices, lust and amorality, only intensified peoples’ desire to have fun during carnival. 

And even the clergy couldn’t resist the party: for two centuries during the middle ages masked priests celebrated “the feast of the crazy” by using sausages instead of sacramental bread for mass. 

“If it wants to survive, society’s structured order needs Carnival as a momentary worship of chaos and disorder, to justify and strengthen such order”, says Franchetti.