Cracks in Colosseum after latest quake felt in Rome
The worst earthquake to hit Italy in three decades has added troubling cracks to the Colosseum, threatening the country's most popular historic landmark.
Francesco Prosperetti, the special superintendent for the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, said that each earthquake put ever more dangerous strain on the 2,000-year-old arena.
"With the earthquake, the cracks are increasing," Mr Prosperetti told 'Corriere della Sera'.
The 6.5 magnitude earthquake that shook central Italy at 7.40am on Sunday left more than 25,000 people homeless and caused widespread destruction in around 100 towns in central Italy. It was the latest in a string of earthquakes to hit the country since August 24, when nearly 300 people died in a 6.2 magnitude quake.
Cultural officials are still counting the cost of the damage to around 5,000 churches, bell towers, historic buildings and ancient walls.
The quake also damaged several churches and buildings in Rome.
In the Vatican, St Paul's Outside the Walls, a basilica and pilgrimage site, was closed to the public after cracks appeared in its facade and cornices fell from the ceiling.
Schools were also closed in Rome yesterday as the mayor, Virginia Raggi, ordered safety checks amid reports that one in five school buildings may have been damaged.
Mr Prosperetti said a thorough inspection had been conducted at the Colosseum after Sunday's earthquake.
He said while some material had fallen on the top level of the amphitheatre, that damage had been caused well before the earthquake and that particular area overlooking the Palatine Hill was already closed to the public.
Experts scoured historic sites including the Roman Forum, the Baths of Caracalla and the Pantheon as well as the Colosseum which was declared safe and opened to tourists on Sunday.
Alessandro D'Alessio, an archeologist who works with the superintendent's office, said the ancient Romans were well aware of the impact of earthquakes and incorporated that in their construction.
"The [Colosseum] arches are the best structures to absorb movements and vibrations," he told 'Corriere Della Sera'. "The ancient Romans knew the earthquakes of the Appenines well.
"Cicero and Tacitus [Roman writers] also wrote that the tremors made swords and shields vibrate. But the most feared quakes were those that came from the Castelli region [outside Rome]."
The Colosseum, built in 80AD, is the largest Roman amphitheatre in the world and was once the scene of bloodsoaked gladiatorial contests that captivated ancient Rome. These days it attracts more than five million visitors a year.
The ancient arena has been shaken by earthquakes several times over the centuries and suffered severe damage in a 1349 earthquake which brought down its south side. It was also damaged by an earthquake in 1703 in the neighbouring region of Abruzzo.
Antonio Piersanti, a seismologist from Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, played down suggestions the earthquakes were getting worse.
"There is no evidence at this time to show we are in a situation any different to the past few years," he said.
Nevertheless the third powerful earthquake to hit Italy in two months struck at the heart of Italy's cultural identity, destroying a Benedictine cathedral, a medieval tower and other beloved landmarks that had survived the earlier jolts across a mountainous region of small historic towns.
Prof Tomaso Montanari, an art historian and leading critic, said the cultural cost of the quakes was immense and more should have been done to protect buildings and churches.
"The loss of our roots means we have lost the future," Prof Montanari said. "In Italy the stones, the buildings, the churches and the artworks are the backbone of the country."
Meanwhile, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has pledged to find temporary housing for all those displaced by the earthquakes in a central mountainous region.
Temperatures overnight reached near freezing, and officials have expressed concern for the many elderly residents of the mountain communities.
"We cannot have tents for some months in the mountains, under the snow," Mr Renzi said. "There are enough hotels for everyone. But many of our compatriots don't want to leave their lands, not even for some weeks." (Daily Telegraph, London)