Italy’s culture minister has announced plans for a new high-speed train linking the country’s capital to the archaeological site of Pompeii in an attempt to increase tourism to the UNESCO World Heritage Site which is located 14 miles southeast of Naples. The project is costing €35 million and will include the construction of a new train station next to the archaeological site, allowing visitors to reach the site easily from Rome and Rome’s Fiumicino Airport.
Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italy’s culture minister, spoke about the project on an Italian talk show, Che Tempo Che Fa, saying that, “we will take tourists directly from Rome to Pompeii” and that this would be “a cultural asset for Italy”. Sangiuliano said that “I know the term ‘culture industry’ makes people squirm, but culture can be a great opportunity for the civic and economic development of Italy.” He announced that the train station will open in early 2024.
Currently, access to Pompeii for tourists via public transport is somewhat challenging. To go from Rome to Pompeii, visitors have to change trains in Naples and board a slow, regional line which stops in multiple coastal towns on a two-hour long journey. It seems that the Italian cultural department have attributed this to the comparative lack of tourists to Pompeii. The site – an ancient city which was preserved due to a volcanic eruption in 79AD – received three million visitors in 2022, significantly less than the seven million who went to Rome’s Colosseum and the four million who visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
While some in the tourism industry have welcomed this announcement, others have been more critical of the plans. Currently, the popular coastal town of Sorrento is the perfect stopping point for visitors to Pompeii, who often stay there overnight. Gaetano Milano, the ex-managing director of Fondazione Sorrento, a heritage promotion foundation, explained that, “visitors will find it more convenient to travel directly to and from Pompeii […] rather than staying the night on the peninsula”, indicating that tourism to Sorrento might be damaged by this new train line.
Italy follows in the footsteps of Mexico in trying to facilitate access to sites of archaeological interest via new trainlines. Last year, the Mexican government announced that a new train service – Tren Maya – would be set up to allow easier access to Mayan sites from beachside resorts in Mexico. This move has received criticism from environmentalists and archaeologists, but the Mexican government issued a decree requiring federal agencies to give automatic approval for these sorts of public works as the government deemed them to be “in the national interest” of the country.