The world-famous archaeological site of Pompeii could choose a non-Italian as its next general director for the first time, after an international search open to all candidates, Italy's culture minister said on Thursday.
The ruined city that was submerged in ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD is the country's second-most visited tourist attraction after Rome's Colosseum, receiving nearly 4 million visits last year.
"We think this contest... will be watched with a lot of interest by the world," Italian Culture Minister Dario Francheschini told journalists during an online press conference.
Pompeii, along with the majority of Italy's cultural sites, has always been led by an Italian. In 2015 for the first time, seven international directors were named to some of the countries' most prestigious museums -- such as Germany's Eike Schmidt at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence -- in an attempt to modernise their dusty, bureaucratic operations, although the appointments have not been without controversy.
Candidate names for the Pompeii post will be accepted until November 3 and a director will be chosen by March, Francheschini said.
The massive site that spreads over 44-hectares (110-acres) is what remains of one of one the richest cities in the Roman empire. Layers of ash buried many buildings and objects in a nearly pristine state, including curled-up corpses of victims.
But the hugely popular site near Naples came to symbolise decades of mismanagement of many of Italy's cultural treasures after a series of wall collapses sparked concern, prompting UNESCO to warn it could be struck off its World Heritage list.
Before the coronavirus crisis hit in late February, Pompeii celebrated the culmination of a $113 million restoration project, paid for largely by European Union funds, although other restauration projects continue.
Outgoing head Massimo Osanna -- who will become the new director of Italy's state museum system -- said he hoped his successor would pursue the policy put in place two years ago of programmed maintenance "that we didn't have for decades".
That includes regular checks and inspections and using digitised data to help prioritise projects.
Nearly a third of the ancient city has yet to be uncovered by archaeologists.