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by Jeff Matthews

The famous archaeological treasure is falling into scandalous decline, even as its sister city Herculaneum is rising from the ashes [...] On a sweltering summer afternoon, Antonio Irlando leads me down the Via dell’Abbondanza, the main thoroughfare in first-century Pompeii. The architect and conservation activist gingerly makes his way over huge, uneven paving stones that once bore the weight of horse-drawn chariots. We pass stone houses richly decorated with interior mosaics and frescoes, and a two-millennial-old snack bar, or Thermopolium, where workmen long ago stopped for lunchtime pick-me-ups of cheese and honey. Abruptly, we reach an orange-mesh barricade. “Vietato L’Ingresso,” the sign says—entry forbidden. It marks the end of the road for visitors to this storied corner of ancient Rome.

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