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Cash troubles threaten ‘Gladiator’ tomb in struggling Rome

ROME: The tomb of the Roman general who inspired the film “Gladiator” risks falling into oblivion despite a plea from Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe to save it, as recession-hit Italy struggles to preserve its archaeological jewels. A team led by archaeologist Daniela Rossi unearthed fragments of the tomb of Roman General Marcus Nonius Macrinus in 2008.

Their remarkable discovery of a stretch of ancient Roman road lined by tombs in an industrial wasteland outside Rome sparked four years of painstaking excavation and restoration projects, costing some $929,000.

Italy’s battle to stave off the debt crisis has seen the government impose austerity cuts which have shaved 20 percent off the budget for maintenance of Italy’s ancient sites – from the Colosseum to Pompeii – since 2010, and funds for the tomb dig have dried up.

With an estimated 2 million euros needed to finish cleaning up the site and protect it from air pollution and winter ice, the city said the only option was to rebury the tomb to preserve it.

The news sparked an online campaign to keep it open, prompting Crowe – whose character in the 2000 film was based on the real-life Macrinus – to join the fight to save the tomb.

Crowe’s appeal, Rossi said, was what forced the city to rethink its approach and the ruins will no longer be reinterred – though they are being covered up under protective fabric, with no guarantee that work at the dig will start again in the spring.

“It was media pressure which finally put a halt to the idea of reburying the site,” Rossi said.

“Crowe’s intervention was generous and I hope it has changed the tomb’s future.”

Next to the tomb, delicately carved marble columns and terracotta tiles line a stretch of perfectly preserved Roman road – the ancient Via Flaminia, which runs north along the Tiber River and bears the marks of the soldiers and merchants’ carts which thundered in and out of the capital each day.

The land now belongs to the Bonifaci real estate group, which reportedly aims to build three luxury apartment blocks on the site.

“We are in talks to try and secure funding from the landowners,” Rossi said, “but it’s far from a done deal and we’re not counting on being able to uncover the site again.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 24, 2012, on page 16.

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