Wed. Jul 17th, 2024

A MAN was left stunned after finding out a tatty stone souvenir in his family’s basement was a priceless 2,000-year-old relic from Pompeii.

Police knocked on Geert De Temmerman’s door shortly after he requested a valuation for the broken marble artwork online.

NewsflashA tatty stone souvenir in a family’s basement turned out to be a priceless 2,000-year-old relic[/caption]

The priceless historical artefact was stolen from Pompeii in 1975, according to Belgian mediaNewsflash

NewsflashGeert De Temmerman, 53, couldn’t believe it when police knocked on his door[/caption]

His mum had mounted the relic on a wall 50 years earlier after the family returned from a trip abroad.

The carved frieze appears to show part of a building with classical columns toppling over.

But Geert, 53, never suspected that it had in fact been stolen from Pompeii‘s famous ruins in the 1970s.

So when his dad decided to sell the house in Herzele, East Flanders, Belgium, Geert reached out to have the slab appraised.

He said: “I wanted to know the value of the piece of marble that has been hanging in the stairwell since I was a child.

“And not much later the police were at the door.”

Speaking about how the priceless piece came into their possession, Geert said it happened when he “was still a very small boy.”

But his dad Raphael, 85, said it had come directly from Pompeii during their visit as part of a tour.

He said: “To be honest, we mainly saw a lot of rubble there.

“During the excursion, I noticed that we were being followed by a man with a brown burlap bag.

“From the way he walked, I could tell that the contents of the bag must be quite heavy.

“He showed us his merchandise and kept repeating ‘money, money’.

“The bag contained scenes in stone, perhaps marble. And I really wanted a souvenir from Pompeii.”

Raphael admitted to local media that he had been passionate about other cultures but had no idea the souvenir was authentic.

He said he couldn’t remember how much they paid but knew it was quite a lot.

He added: “I was interested in the souvenir: I never wondered about its origin.

“I don’t remember how we got back to Belgium, but we didn’t go by plane. I think we made the trip to Italy by bus.”

Back in Belgium, the four pieces of marble were integrated into the home, mounted on a wall between modern grey tiles.

Geert said: “To be honest, we didn’t pay much attention to it in the years that followed.

“There have been parties here at home, a lot of guests have come over, but no one has said anything about it.”

But when it came to selling the house, Geert wanted to know if the pieces were genuine, so he called up a museum and they sent experts over.

Geert said: “I contacted the Gallo-Roman museum in Tongeren, asking whether we had something authentic hanging or not.

“I sent some photos in the attachment.

“Not much later, two specialists came to our home to take a look. I heard them whisper to each other, ‘It’s authentic!’

“I asked them if they were interested in purchasing it, but was told they weren’t allowed to.

“Anyway, I didn’t want to just give it away either.

“The next day the doorbell rang and the police were there with a search warrant. We didn’t see that coming at all.

“Today they came again to draw up a report.”

The artefact was stolen in July 1975 and is of priceless historical value, according to Belgian media.

It was reportedly taken from the house of L. Caecilius Iucundus in Pompeii.

Experts say it most likely depicts the earthquake that struck the city in 62AD, 15 years before it was buried by a volcanic eruption.

Geert said: “The judicial police have left us some documents describing those details.

“It’s crazy to think that tourists have been looking at a replica all this time, while the original has been hanging here.

“Will we still get money for this? I put that out of my mind, as it is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

“We may still be entitled to compensation because in the end, we looked after it well.”

The Belgian authorities are in touch with their Italian counterparts.

In 2020, tourists returned stolen Roman artefacts claiming “the curse of Pompeii” gave them cancer or sent them bankrupt.

So many thieves have returned relics to the site, together with letters confessing their guilt, that a special museum has been set up.

Elsewhere, researchers have used artificial intelligence to help them decipher a 2,000-year-old scroll unearthed from the ashes of Mount Vesuvius.

After the volcano erupted in 79AD, it buried a library of scrolls under volcanic ash where the messages inside have remained a secret.

AlamyThe relic most likely depicts the earthquake that struck Pompeii in 62AD[/caption]

The piece of marble art was reportedly taken from the house of L. Caecilius IucundusGetty

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