Is Rome's Ancient Heritage Crumbling?

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Recent decay at some of Rome's most famed archaeological sites is fueling a debate on the precarious state of the Eternal City's historical heritage in the face of government budget cuts.

About half a square yard of mortar fell off Rome's Colosseum earlier this month, fortunately so early in the morning that the usually crowded downtown square hosting the amphitheater was deserted. Archaeologists who rushed to the site have downplayed the alarm, saying the falling mortar was not a structural failure and noting that the towering Colosseum, where ancient Romans watched gladiator combats, has successfully resisted the ravages of time since it was completed in 80 A.D.

However, the crumbling pieces are pushing experts to focus on how a lack of funds is making it difficult to prevent water infiltration, tree roots, pollution and a massive tourist presence from taking a toll on the Roman Empire's classical archaeological heritage.

Rome city officials have vowed to launch a $29 million conservation project for the Colosseum, but archaeologists say emergency funds are not enough to tackle the problem at its origin.

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