A couple of months ago we had a "Pompeii-debate" in Cambridge, with Simon Jenkins and Caroline Lawrence making a bid (in subtly different ways) for a bit more "reconstruction" at Pompeii... some re-con furniture put back, more roofs remade, even a few actors dotted around the place impersonating the Roman inhabitants and engaging the visitors in casual, but informative, conversation about life in the ancient city. (You can read a version of Simon's line here.)
What I hadn't realised then was that something of this sort had already come to Pompeii -- or at least to the "House of Caius Julius Polybius".
This used to be one of my favourite places in the town. It gives you a great glimpse of the upper storey of a Roman house, it has some marvellous wall decoration in the rooms around the peristyle (where 12 skeletons were found, overwhelmed by the eruption, as well as a considerable quantity of "treasure"), a well-excavated garden (with trees of fig, lemon and fruit -- plus a ladder for gathering the crop), and some remarkable casts of the wooden furniture that once stood around the portico.
But some time in the last year or so, things have changed. For those visitors who pay extra for a tour that includes this house (which is normally closed to the public), Caius Julius Polybius himself now awaits to greet them. Or to be more exact, an image of Polybius (that's him above) is projected onto a scrappy curtain, and his voice booms over a tannoy, to welcome you -- accompanied by music, some odd bits of Latin, plus the sounds of dripping water (a kind of Roman sound and lightshow).
And that's not all. When you get to the peristyle, you find that just next to the relatively well preserved furniture that is still in situ, some modern look-alikes have been installed -- probably expensively-made replicas, but at a casual glance they appear to have come from the local Ikea. Move on the dining room and -- just in case you missed the point about what it was used for -- there some Ikea couches and tables (and not in this case, I think, a very accurate version of what you would once have found). Meanwhile, in the pretence that it is all accessible to the disabled (just try Pompeii in a wheel chair!) a decidedly ugly metal entrance ramp has been installed up to the front door, and all over the first hallway (or atrium) of the house. It's a truly ghastly industrial intrusion into the Roman scene.
This is definitely a very poor advert for reconstruction. Simon and Caroline would, I suspect, argue that you can't judge the whole principle by a bosh-shot like this. True enough. But I couldnt help wondering who on earth wasted money on this rubbish -- when the real antiquities of the site could really do with the cash to provide them with a little more care and attention. Even just a few brooms to brush the dust and grime away would enhance the visitor experience more than a Disneyland Caius Julius Polybius,