Pompeii’s new director criticized before even starting

A street in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. Image: janka3147 (Canva) CC0

Last week the Italian government announced German-born Italian archaeologist Gabriel Zuchtriegel as Pompeii’s new director. But not everyone seemed happy with the 39-year old supervisor. Critics believe Zuchtriegel is too young and lacks experience. And above all, he is not Italian (enough).

Two members of the Scientific council of the archaeological parc, Irene Braganti and Stefano de Caro, immediately resigned after hearing the news, reported Corriere della Serra. So what is happening in Pompeii?

Reforming the sector

European Heritage Youth Ambassador Anna Ainio

According to art history undergraduate and European Heritage Youth Ambassador Anna Ainio, the critique on Zuchtriegel has everything to do with Italy’s cultural administration reform of 2014. ”The government decided to give the 20 most important museums, including Pompeii, more independence”, she explained. ”Now, directors could decide themselves how to, for example, promote their institutes. Obviously, more independence meant more power.” 

The reform also meant that non-Italians could apply for top positions in Italy’s cultural industry. ”Several people in the sector believe that Italians, not foreigners, should manage Italian heritage”, Ainio notes. ”But according to EU law, EU-citizens cannot be excluded when it comes to high ranked administrative jobs, even if they are on a government level.” 

”Several people in the sector believe that Italians, not foreigners, should manage Italian heritage”

Fresh energy or inexperience?

Even though Zuchtriegel became an Italian state citizen in 2020, critics think he has not enough experience to supervise Pompeii. He previously managed the archaeological parks at Paestum and Velia, but Pompeii is a step up in size and prestige. ”As an unexperienced foreigner, it can be challenging to understand Italian administration”, says Ainio. ”But Zuchtriegel has worked here for a long time, even though he is only 39.” 

She believes foreign directors can bring new ideas and energy to a cultural site. ”As an intern at Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, I worked with director James Bradburne, a Canadian. He made the museum more accessible to many people.”

If ‘foreigner’ Zuchtriegel will be just as successful at Pompeii, remains to be seen. According to Forbes, the new director plans to implement state-of-the-art technology, such as use drones, satellites and infrared sensors to assist in supervising the site. But he still needs to work together with the board and his colleagues in order to preserve the site.

”I’m not one who sees the director as the person who knows and decides everything”, Zuchtriegel pointed out in an interview with The Guardian. His first goal is to attract people living near Pompeii, now that foreigners can not visit the site. ”Now is a good opportunity to engage more with the local community.”

Sources: Anna Ainio, Forbes, The Guardian and Corriere della Serra (Italian)

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