The Italian court recently condemned the 'exorbitant costs' of Pompeii restoration. This raises the question, how much is too much when we look at "our own" restoration projects, and how should we give shape to these restoration projects?

The aim of rebuilding Pompeii’s ancient amphitheatre in tuff and reinforced concrete was to allow a show to be performed there. A show with lights and a stage set, violins and an orchestra. But is this the way to “make the most” of a world treasure? By relegating concerns for its protection to second place? Not according to Italy’s Court of Auditors, whose ruling contains harsh criticism of Pompeii’s former commissioner Marcello Fiori, appointed some years ago by Sandro Bondi and the Berlusconi government to “relaunch” the archaeological site. The court also ordered him to pay damages of €400,000.

The project had received official blessing as part of an agreement to “make the most of” Pompeii and to “transform the amphitheatre into the South’s very own Arena of Verona”. The project also involved Naples’s San Carlo theatre, where the commissioner was Salvo Nastasi, later criticised by Paolo Isotta for other renovations including the construction of a bar in the legendary Neapolitan theatre.

So what was the final expenditure for the renovation of the theatre, which initially should have cost €449,882 plus VAT? The sentence just issued by the court of appeal puts it at €5,778,939. A fortune. To be added to other “paltry expenses” of the director’s period of management. Such as the €102,963 spent for a census of the site’s 55 stray dogs: €1.872 per animal. Or the €55,000 spent on an order to the Mastroberardino winery for a thousand bottles of the wine “Villa dei misteri”, found by the subsequent management in the warehouses. Or the €3,762 for the purchase of seeds from the Antica Erboristeria Pompeiana, perhaps to be planted in the ancient gardens.

The final result was a court order for Pompeii’s former director “to pay damages of € 400,000”. Apart from being a nasty blow for Marcello Fiori – whom Silvio Berlusconi initially appointed after the disappointing result in the 2013 elections as the man to lay the foundations for rebuilding Forza Italia –, the sentence could mark a turning point on the issue of safeguarding our treasures. God knows how important it is to “make the most of” a treasure that belongs to us all. Precisely for this reason, however, that treasure must above all be respected.

Of course, this is an extreme example where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, but it does raise questions. How much should be invested into the restoration of ancient monuments? And should those investments be made to secure the site against decay and vandals, or can we transform them into more? Perhaps into something that the ancients would have used them for, be they theaters or temples. Should private or corporate investment be allowed to make these plans a reality? It's a new age and a new economic climate. We have technical knowhow and social needs. The question, I fear, is in ethics...