Mafia, Vesuvius and Roman heritage

The European Heritage Prize 2011 is awarded an archaeologist and an Italian mayor, who have shown how discoveries from the distant past can help create alternatives to a mafia-run economy.

The European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) has awarded its thirteenth Heritage Prize to Dr. Girolamo Ferdinando de Simone of St Johns College, University of Oxford, and Avvocato Francesco Pinto, Mayor of Pollena Trocchia, in recognition of their combined efforts that have set an important example for the integration of scholarly, and societal achievements with good heritage management under particularly demanding circumstances.

Mafia, Vesuvius and Roman heritage

Living in in the shadow
On the Northern slopes of Vesuvius people have not been used to much attention around their history and culture. Tourists have crowded elsewhere at more illustrious locations in the Campania region such as Napoli, Baiae, Pompeii and Herculaneum. The inhabitants themselves used not to think much of their own local past, not known for any of the Roman splendour that has made its neighbours world famous.

Roman villa under the mafias garbage dump
Some Roman remains were touched upon by accident some years ago in the minor town of Pollena Trocchia, but they were quickly covered again by an illegal garbage dump, run by the local Mafia. The Mafia is known for causing immense problems with its control over garbage collection in the Napoli region. But in 2004 the young mayor backed an Italian and international team of archaeologists in bringing the ruins out of oblivion.Together with an enthusiastic team they have managed to get rid of the Mafia run garbage dump, and started a proper excavation that has revealed a fine Roman villa with a thermal bath.

The investigation of the monument revealed that also the Northern slopes of Vesuvius did in fact have an important habitation during antiquity, and also that it had been re-inhabited soon after the eruption of Vesuvius responsible for the complete destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The investigation has also added to our insights into life in Campania during the high and late empire between the famous eruption of 79 A.D. and that of 472 A.D. which particularly affected the Northern slopes of Vesuvius.

Mafia, Vesuvius and Roman heritage
Dr. Girolamo Ferdinando De Simone og ordfører Francesco Pinto i Pollena Trochia

The courage of the mayor and the backing of the people
Without the cooperation between Dr. Girolamo Ferdinando De Simone, who leads the archaeological team, the active backing of the local population, and the courageous mayor of Pollena Trocchia, Avvocato Francesco Pinto, this important Roman monument would probably have remained buried under tons of refuse from the mafia’s illegal dump.

The past has given hope for the future
Most important of all, the excavation, presentation and return of the monument to the public, all of which happened under very difficult conditions, mobilized and encouraged the local community which participates in the archaeological work with enthusiasm and pride.
The Roman monument has helped re-branding the town, and encouraged an emerging tourism that provides a legal alternative to a mafia run economy.

In the reasoning for the award of the European Heritage Prize The EAA says that: “Dr. Girolamo Ferdinando De Simone’s work bespeaks the spirit of responsibility and dedication of the active field archaeologists in Europe. The firm stance of the Mayor of Pollena Trocchia, Francesco Pinto, who bravely defended the archaeological work and heritage against illegal but mighty interests, is laudable as it reconnected the Pollena Trocchia inhabitants with their historical past and reinstated lost pride.”

“The awarding of the European Heritage Prize to Dr. Girolamo Ferdinando De Simone and Mayor Francesco Pinto sends a message of optimism to other European regions whose cultural heritage is endangered by questionable interests,” said Carsten Paludan-Müller, Chairman of the European Heritage Prize Committee,and Director of The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research.

“The synergetic results of their cooperation constitutes a luminous example of what can be achieved when heritage management and archaeological research enjoys local society’s support and when archaeologists are conscious of their potential to contribute to society,” he stated

European Association of Archaeologists