How Does Pompeii Maintain Its Ruins? Hungry Sheep.


The men walked down the Via Vesuvius, which runs alongside the House of Leda, just below the slope upon which the sheep grazed. There, they tried to strike up a conversation with Barbara dell’Isola, 28, an art restorer in white scrubs (“What are you up to, Barbara?”) who worked near the sensual fresco of the Spartan queen holding Jupiter, disguised as a swan, on her lap.

She thought, at first, that having the sheep work the fields above her while she worked on the walls “was strange.”

“I felt like there was danger, that some detritus might fall on the walls,” she said. But then she realized that “they only eat.”

Some of the park’s staff saw the return of the sheep as a kind of return of life to Pompeii, a place, perhaps more than any other, that was synonymous with agonizing death.

A friendly brown-and-white stray dog followed Maurizio Bartolini, Pompeii’s gardener, as he walked to the fields. He said the park’s clean environment and lack of pollution had drawn more wild animals, including hoopoe birds, an owl that took residence above the aristocratic House of Pansa and lots of hedgehogs.

“The animals have come back to Pompeii,” he said.

At around 1 p.m., Mr. de Martino sent his dog Sara to start rounding up the sheep, whose incessant ripping at the grass sounded like a heavy rain. They made a noisy, pealing parade back through the Vesuvius Gate and down a dirt road outside the park with Mr. de Martino following closely behind. Giuseppe Mingo, 59, one of the maintenance workers, watched them go, the ruins at their backs, the volcano looming above their heads.

“It’s like ancient times,” he said.