Up to 10 unexploded bombs are lying beneath Pompeii and risk destroying the World Heritage site, according to Italian media reports.

The ancient city of Pompeii is one of Italy's most popular tourist attractions drawing more than three million visitors a year. But the tourists don't realise that the city, devastated by a volcanic eruption in AD79, not only hides the secrets of the Roman Empire but some from a more recent era.

Pompeii, 24km south of Naples, was the target of intense bombing in August 1943 as Allied Forces swept across Italy in the Second World War.

Of the 165 bombs dropped around Pompeii most were identified and cleared. But the Italian daily, Il Fatto Quotidiano, claimed up to 10 unexploded bombs lay beneath the soil in an area yet to be excavated.


"This is an occasion to acknowledge the spirit of Pompeii and its valuable heritage," said Alessandro Pintucci, president of the Confederation of Archaeologists.

"While protection of the site is conducted on a daily basis for any damage caused by tourist traffic or the passage of time, we need to broaden our scope."

Buried family in the walled garden at Pompeii. Photo / AP
Buried family in the walled garden at Pompeii. Photo / AP

Pompeii is undergoing a new phase of excavation, the most intensive since the 1950s, with new finds coming to light. The Great Pompeii Project, funded by the European Union and Italy, has unearthed villas decorated with frescoes and mosaics as well as the skeletal remains of humans trapped beneath the rubble after Vesuvius erupted. One third of the 170-acre site is yet to be uncovered.

Massimo Osanna, director of Pompeii Archaelogical Park, stressed security was paramount during excavations.

"Under the law, before any excavations can be carried out, we must work with military engineers to clear the site," he said. "A bomb went off 30 years ago and that is impossible now under the safety regulations.

He said it was difficult to know how many wartime bombs were still buried and welcomed any input from the Royal Air Force to help determine where they were might be located.

"There could be unexploded bombs beneath the soil in the area that has not been excavated but the total number is hypothetical," he said.

In a statement, Pompeii officials stressed there was no risk to workers carrying out excavations, nor to tourists who visited the area.