A flock of lawn-mowing sheep have been mobilised to trim unruly grass surrounding the ruins of Pompeii as part of an agricultural initiative for the site that also includes plans to revive ancient vineyards.
The 150 sheep arrived in Pompeii on Thursday morning and immediately got to work munching away in an unexcavated section of Regio V, a vast area to the north of the archaeological park.
“They entered the site with great enthusiasm and got to work straight away,” said Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the director of the Pompeii archaeological park. “Maintenance is a huge cost, so instead of paying someone to cut the grass we have sheep eating it, fertilising it and creating a pastoral landscape that is much more resistant to dry seasons and heavy rainfall.”
The lawn-mowing method has caught on in other places around the world as an ecological way to reduce energy use and costs.
“Many people think of Pompeii as an ancient city with lots of houses, but it’s actually much more than this,” said Zuchtriegel. “There are huge areas of trees, grass, olive groves and vineyards. And if you look back at photos from 100 years ago in southern Italy, or even in the 1950s, it’s astonishing to see the walls around Pompeii, Paestum and other sites – they didn’t have these problems with growing vegetation because every square metre was productively used by these peasant communities.”
Zuchtriegel added: “They did a great job of preserving the traditional landscape and we need to get back to using some of these techniques because otherwise it’s just not sustainable.”
There are plans to eventually deploy the sheep to help maintain ancient and new vineyards as park authorities seek to boost the production of Pompeii wine.
Pompeii was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79. The city’s ruins were discovered in the 16th century, with the first excavations beginning in 1748.
In the late 1800s, the archeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli first excavated some of the city’s vineyards, which until then had been lying beneath 3 metres of thick ash. Many of the ancient vineyards were found in the less densely populated eastern side of the city, where people produced wine in their gardens.
Pompeii was famous for its wine, which was exported across the Mediterranean. Pompeii wine was extremely alcoholic and mixed with ingredients including honey, spices and even seawater.
The site has been producing wine for some time but now authorities are close to signing a partnership that will lead to more ancient vineyards being revived and new ones planted.