POMPEII (Italy) • Pompeii is rising from the ashes again - despite the worst that Italy's mafia, and bureaucracy, could throw at it.
The ancient city, buried during a volcanic eruption in the first century, is undergoing a multimillion-euro restoration which will see the preserved bodies of victims go on display at the site. However, the transformation of one of the world's most treasured archaeological sites has been a challenge for archaeologists and for Italy itself.
Archaeologist Massimo Osanna was sent in to turn around the project two years ago amid reports of degradation of the ruins, of theft and even of looting by the Neapolitan mafia. He now has a €130 million (S$196 million) budget.
In March, Unesco inspectors - who had threatened to take Pompeii off the list of World Heritage sites - acknowledged that there had been considerable improvements to the site's conservation.
Pompeii's transformation includes a new special exhibition of around 20 victims of the eruption, preserved in plaster with their expressions and positions fixed at the very moment they met their fate, carbonised by the intense heat of a 300 deg C gas cloud.
Displayed for the first time, the bodies of men, women and children from Pompeii and neighbouring Herculaneum - which was also engulfed by the eruption - are laid out in a wooden pyramid in the middle of an ancient amphitheatre.
The ruins are the second most visited attraction in Italy after the Colosseum in Rome, and are seen as a symbol of the challenges in preserving Italy's cultural heritage.