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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 April, 2003, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
Stolen Pompeii frescoes found
Italian state TV reporting the theft
Both frescoes suffered some damage during the theft
Italian police have recovered two famous frescoes that were stolen last weekend from a house in the Roman city of Pompeii, near Naples.

The 1st Century frescoes were found at a construction site close to the historic city, after roadblocks were set up across the whole of Naples province.

The authorities said they had already been packed, and that the aim may have been to smuggle them abroad.

Both panels were damaged during the theft.

Archaeological officials say they are not sure they will succeed in fully reconstructing them.

Stolen to order

Image of stolen fresco
The frescoes date from the middle of the first century
Police say the theft might have been commissioned by a collector, as selling such unique and well-known pieces on the open market would be virtually impossible.

"If we had arrived a few hours later, we would have completely lost track (of the frescoes)," Colonel Gino Micale told Italian radio.

The frescoes - a medallion of Cupid and a scene representing a cock pecking at a pomegranate - were clumsily removed from the villa's wall.

Adjacent frescoes were damaged in the process. Fragments of them were found scattered across the floor.

The frescoes come from Pompei's House of the Chaste Lovers, which is closed to the public.

Historians believe the artist might have been at work inside the house at the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, which buried the wealthy city in volcanic ash.

History of thefts

An artists' compasses, pots of pigment and other tools were found inside the house when it was excavated.

Pompeii has a long record of art thefts.

A chronic lack of resources means there is a shortage of security staff, which forces the authorities to keep large areas of the site closed to the public.

Italian media report it has emerged that a CCTV camera system, which operates in the streets of the ancient city, has been out of order for several months.

Police say they are following several lines of inquiry, but do not want to reveal any details of the investigation.

Pompeii attracts some 2.5 million visitors each year.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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