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The cost of restoring Italy’s historic landmarks

Rome’s ancient monuments are some of the city’s biggest draws, but maintaining them comes at a huge cost. Although private corporations have been more than willing to pick up the bill, their involvement has proven controversial

With time taking its toll on Rome's Colosseum, in 2012 the Italian Government implemented a €25m restoration project. However, public funds were limited, meaning private institutions had to step in to provide financial assistance
With time taking its toll on Rome's Colosseum, in 2012 the Italian Government implemented a €25m restoration project. However, public funds were limited, meaning private institutions had to step in to provide financial assistance 

Lord Byron is just one of many observers who, upon seeing the Colosseum in Rome, imbued it with monumental significance. “While stands the [Colosseum], Rome shall stand,” he wrote in his narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. “When falls the [Colosseum], Rome shall fall; and when Rome falls – the world.”

Over the centuries, the 48-metre-high reminder of Roman brutality and engineering skill has been plundered by popes for building materials, suffered fires and earthquakes and been left to decay. But still it stands, almost 2,000 years after it was built.

Until recently, however, the Colosseum has not been in the best shape. Pollution from nearby traffic had left the exterior thick with dirt and grime, iron gates were showing signs of corrosion and the invasive roots of caper bushes had caused instability in the masonry.

Realising that one of the country’s most treasured monuments was in need of repair, in 2012, Italy’s then-Minister of Culture, Lorenzo Ornaghi, announced plans for a €25m ($30.66m) restoration project. There was just one problem: with the country’s public institutions in a prolonged period of budgetary constraints, who was going to pay for the works?

Sadly, this is a problem that Rome, and Italy more widely, has long struggled to resolve. If it’s not the Colosseum that’s in need of repair, it’s the Trevi Fountain or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. With
Italy’s national debt standing at approximately 132 percent of GDP, it’s difficult to find the money to maintain ancient monuments, particularly when so many other areas are also in need of investment.

Fortunately, private corporations have answered the country’s call for aid, with luxury fashion brand Tod’s agreeing to fund the Colosseum’s renovation. This follows recent restoration projects in the capital funded by the likes of Fendi and Bulgari. But while tapping into corporate patronage may be a practical solution to the problems facing Italy’s fading cultural landmarks, it has not been without controversy.

A high-fashion makeover
Visitors to Rome last year may have noticed that the Colosseum had undergone something of an upgrade. More than 10,000sq m of travertine surfaces had been scrubbed clean, 1,700kg of lime putty was used to fill cracks in the structure and 1,200sq m of gates, frames and iron parapets had been restored. Despite taking more than two and a half years, the work was only the first phase of an ongoing restoration project.

Footing the $30.66m bill for the extensive revamp is Italian luxury shoe brand Tod’s, which stepped up to sponsor the restoration when it became clear that the public sector didn’t have the required funds. Tod’s CEO, Diego Della Valle, has declared the patronage a selfless act, and residents and tourists alike have been pleased to discover that the renovation has not become a garish corporate branding opportunity. Tod’s certainly talked up its role in the project in the media, but the Colosseum itself has remained advertising-free.


Plea for restoration funding issued by Rome


Paid by Tod’s to repair the Colosseum


Contributed by Fendi to restore the Trevi Fountain


Gifted by Bulgari to preserve the Spanish Steps

“As soon as I heard they were looking for a sponsor, I couldn’t do anything other than put myself forward,” Della Valle told Condé Nast Traveler. “Businesses which are lucky enough to do well should give back a little bit of positivity to their country. It was a privilege for me and my family to contribute to the restoration of one of the most beautiful and important monuments in the world.”

It’s not the first time the luxury fashion industry has rescued Italy’s crumbling monuments. In 2013, Fendi contributed €2.2m ($2.7m) to help clean up the Trevi Fountain, while Bulgari provided a €1.5m ($1.8m) ‘gift’ to the people of Rome in 2016 to pay for the restoration of the Spanish Steps.

David Karmon, Associate Professor at the College of the Holy Cross and author of The Ruin of the Eternal City: Antiquity and Preservation in Renaissance Rome, believes that Italy is lucky to have such extraordinary cultural patrimony, but that maintaining it requires continued investment.

“The Colosseum is, of course, famous as the enduring symbol of the Eternal City, and yet it is also an unavoidable physical reality that even the Colosseum is subject to constant transformation over time,” Karmon explained. “Preservation and restoration work, as human measures that seek to negotiate this process, has been going on at this site – and others – for centuries, and thus these kinds of projects are never really finished.”

Taking a walk along Via Condotti to marvel at the glamorous shopfronts may be a very different experience to gazing up at a 2,000-year-old amphitheatre, but they both provide reminders of the huge impact that the city – and, in a broader sense, Italy – has made on the world.

If private corporations are to be the main funding source for this ongoing reconstruction, then luxury fashion brands appear to be an ideal fit; as culturally synonymous with Rome as the ancient monuments that they are helping to restore.

Public vs private
Although government finances remain tight at the civic and national level, opposition abounds when it comes to accepting private sector funding. When Tod’s restoration work was first proposed, the Restorers Association of Italy, trade unionists and the Italian Antitrust Authority all protested the move. There was concern not only that the restoration work would not be completed to a high enough standard, but also that it might be accompanied by unsightly advertisements.

With Italy’s national debt standing at approximately 132 percent of GDP, it’s difficult to find the money to maintain ancient monuments

In purely pragmatic terms, it’s difficult to argue with the use of private funds for restoration projects, but a nation’s history and culture carries great emotional weight. As the country that gave the world Giuseppe Verdi, Dante Alighieri and Leonardo da Vinci, it’s hardly surprising that Italians would want to protect their most valued cultural artefacts from corporate influence.

Unlike nations such as the US, Italy doesn’t have an established history of private and public sector collaboration. To many, it felt as if Tod’s money had bought the brand the right to influence the future of a monument that belongs to the Italian people.

Conversely, the involvement of private companies can give monuments a new lease of life, giving dusty museum pieces renewed relevance. Fendi was largely praised for the choreographed fashion show that signified the end of its restoration of the Trevi Fountain.

On the other hand, there was widespread indignation when the city of Florence allowed Morgan Stanley to host a lavish dinner inside a 14th-century chapel for the princely sum of $54,000. The money may have helped with the church’s upkeep but, according to many residents, some things should not be for sale.

As the Colosseum’s restoration continues, conversations are underway to bring more live music to the amphitheatre. The money this would raise would help cover the venue’s ongoing maintenance costs, but there will be some who foresee preservation being sacrificed for profit.

Karmon, however, believes that live musical performances at the Colosseum could be an ideal way of giving it renewed cultural vibrancy. It would certainly be in keeping with the monument’s original function as a spectator venue, but once again, the matter of taste will no doubt play a part. Traditionalists may look more favourably on a performance of Verdi’s La traviata than a Beyoncé concert.

“If we think about these buildings as living organisms, we want them to be vibrant and animated, rather than dormant and desolate,” Karmon explained. “While the idea of giving the monument a new lease of life through reuse is very compelling, our interest in making these sites relevant to the present also has to be balanced against our obligation to transmit them intact to future generations.”

In the debate over whether the public and private sectors should work together to pick up the bill for cultural preservation, it’s important that each case is assessed on its own merits. If there are mutual benefits to be had, these partnerships are certainly preferable to seeing a city’s cultural heritage wither and crumble to nothing. If not, Rome and many other historically important locations risk transforming past glories into modern-day eyesores.

Where to eat

La Pergola
101 Via Alberto Cadlolo
+39 06 3509 2152

Perched atop Monte Mario, La Pergola is just as likely to take your breath away with its picturesque views as it is with its award-winning food. The brainchild of German-born Head Chef Heinz Beck, La Pergola offers dishes inspired by traditional Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, but with modern creative twists. The 10-course menu includes Beck’s signature dish, Fagotelli ‘La Pergola’, John Dory in a liquorice crust and an iced sphere of pomegranate. It is the first and, to this day, only restaurant in the city to have earned three Michelin stars.

Flavio al Velavevodetto
97 Via di Monte Testaccio
+39 06 574 4194

In ancient times, Rome’s Testaccio district received the majority of the city’s food supply, with olive oil, grains and wine entering the Emporium port. Today, visitors to Flavio al Velavevodetto will find that the area’s rich culinary history is preserved in the form of homemade dishes, prepared with natural ingredients from the restaurant’s own garden, and exquisite wines produced by a private vineyard. You’ll find traditional fare here, including nervetti salad (chopped tendons of calf shin), deep fried artichokes and Roman-style tripe. Chef Flavio de Maio’s award-winning carbonara is also not to be missed.

Green T
28 Via del Piè di Marmo
+39 06 679 8628

There are plenty of Chinese restaurants to choose from in Rome, but Green T stands out from the crowd. Located in the heart of the city, just a stone’s throw from the Pantheon, it delivers traditional Chinese dishes in an elegant atmosphere. You’ll find dim sum, Peking duck and a host of set menus to choose from. Although the restaurant has a good wine selection, its collection of high-quality teas will be difficult to beat this side of Beijing, and tea sommelier Yan is happy to share her expertise on which brews pair well with the many dishes on offer.

Where to meet

Roma Convention Centre La Nuvola
40 Viale Asia
+39 06 5451 3710

Designed by architect Massimiliano Fuksas, the Roma Convention Centre La Nuvola is a recent addition to the city, having only been completed in October 2016. Based around three distinct architectural elements (known as the Theca, the Cloud and the Blade), the centre is both aesthetically arresting and highly flexible. With a capacity that can reach a total of almost 8,000, plus a 600-space underground parking lot, the centre works just as well for hosting large-scale exhibitions as it does for more intimate gatherings. Far from just a collection of meeting rooms, the Roma Convention Centre La Nuvola is a work of art in itself.

Palazzo Cardinal Cesi
51 Via della Conciliazione
+39 06 684 0390

It may have been built in 1400, but Palazzo Cardinal Cesi has an abundance of modern facilities across its three meeting rooms, including video projectors, a public address system and simultaneous translation technology. Designed to accommodate all types of events, the Palazzo has a total capacity of up to 180 people and provides attendees with a fantastic view of the beautiful cloister garden. It also boasts a sublime location, just a short walk away from St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the many shopping boutiques of Via Crescenzio. The hotel is a meeting space that displays history and modernity in perfect harmony.

Where to stay

The Grand Hotel Palace
70 Via Vittorio Veneto
+39 06 47871

With 87 luxury guest rooms and a prime location in Rome’s historic centre, the Grand Hotel Palace shines both inside and out. Designed by renowned architect Marcello Piacentini and adorned with Guido Cadorin’s frescoes, the hotel is a visual delight for business and leisure travellers alike. Just a short walk from the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, guests should have no problem visiting the city’s most famous landmarks. The hotel’s Kami Spa also provides the perfect opportunity to relax after a day of sightseeing, offering three treatment rooms, a saltwater pool and several Asian holistic treatments.

Aleph Rome Hotel
15 Via di San Basilio
+39 06 422 9001

Once home to Italy’s Cassa di Risparmio bank, the resplendent palazzo that now houses the Aleph Rome Hotel is truly eye-catching, complete with cipollino marble and shimmering onyx panels. The hotel has 88 rooms, boasting smart TVs, Wi-Fi and sleek interiors. The rooftop bar delivers a great space in which to sip a cocktail and enjoy some delicious hors d’oeuvres. The Aleph is also renowned for being one of the city’s best spa hotels, possessing a wellness centre as well as outdoor and indoor pools to help you unwind after a hard day working or exploring the city.

Residenza Ruspoli Bonaparte
56 Via della Fontanella di Borghese
+39 342 886 1007

Just a short walk from some of Rome’s best-known monuments, including the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, the Residenza Ruspoli Bonaparte remains the family home of Princess Maria Pia and her daughter, Princess Giacinta Ruspoli. As such, the hotel exudes opulence in every feature, from its grand marble staircase to its tapestried entrance and frescoed ceilings and walls. A butler and full-time concierge will provide white-glove service during your stay, and staff are more than happy to organise personal shoppers, leisure activities and cultural events. History fans will also be excited to learn that French Emperor Napoleon III once called the Residenza Ruspoli Bonaparte home.

Culture for sale
In the small village of Frattocchie, about 20km south of the Colosseum, there resides a striking example of what can happen when cultural artefacts and corporate interests collide. In 2014, as construction workers dug the foundations for a new McDonald’s restaurant, an ancient stretch of road was uncovered. Believed to be a side route that once joined the Appian Way, one of ancient Rome’s most strategically important thoroughfares, the 150-ft section of road dates back to the second century BC.

The involvement of private companies can give monuments a new lease of life, giving dusty museum pieces renewed relevance

McDonald’s contributed €300,000 ($368,000) to a three-year restoration project, creating a mini museum about the road and the skeletons of three men who were discovered alongside it. In what has been described as the corporation’s first ‘museum-restaurant’, visitors are encouraged to consider the famous emperors, poets and philosophers who may have travelled along the two-millennia-old road, while getting their fast food fix.

To some, the decision to mix fast food and ancient history is one that cheapens Rome’s cultural heritage, but this is not a view shared by everyone. As Mario Federico, Head of McDonald’s Italia, said: “The project is a good example of how the public and private sectors can collaborate effectively.” If the US restaurant chain hadn’t been willing to put up the funds, it’s highly likely that the road would simply have been covered up again.

This is not the only example where private sector patronage has had less-than-ideal results. Last year, sights throughout Paris, from the Museum of Decorative Arts to the Church of St Eustache, were covered with corporate branding while renovations took place. Likewise, in Venice, tourists and locals alike were dismayed to find the landmark Bridge of Sighs plastered with adverts during a three-year restoration project between 2008 and 2011.

Evidently, the precise role to be played by private corporations funding restoration projects needs to be conveyed to local authorities and the public long before any scaffolding or corporate branding is erected. “No one wants these sites to become the invisible supports for a modern advertising campaign,” Karmon said. Although fears that Tod’s would emblazon the Colosseum with billboards displaying its shoes and handbags were not realised, they were clearly not without basis.

The burden of history
Walking around Rome, it’s easy to take the city’s ancient monuments for granted. Every corner you turn seems to present you with another architectural marvel dating from ancient times. The rest of Italy is similarly filled with cultural landmarks, from the Duomo in Florence to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

In fact, no country has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than Italy’s 53. And while these sites do bring the country a great deal of money and international prestige – Italy’s tourism industry is worth €79bn ($97bn), representing 4.2 percent of total GDP – maintaining them comes at a significant cost.

Rome may have issued a €500m ($614m) plea for aid, but the rest of Italy could do with help too. In 2014, the country’s then-Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, made a sales pitch that raised concerns about the way private sponsors are chosen, but also revealed the stark reality of the government’s financial situation.

 In 2013, Fendi contributed €2.2m ($2.7m) to help clean up the Trevi Fountain,
In 2013, Fendi contributed €2.2m ($2.7m) to help clean up the Trevi Fountain

“Our doors are wide open for all the philanthropists and donors who want to tie their name to an Italian monument,” he said. “We have a long list, as our heritage offers endless options, from small countryside churches to the Colosseum. Just pick.”

While the private sector may be willing to fund the restoration of high-profile sites like the Colosseum or the Pantheon, they are unlikely to be quite so forthcoming when it comes to lesser-known sites, even if they are still of great historical importance. Governments around the world, therefore, should not forego their own responsibilities to cultural preservation.

What’s more, where corporate philanthropy is utilised, public sector bodies can still play an important role by providing access to academic expertise and guidance. In fact, Karmon believes the conflicting interests of the public and private sector could help provide an important balance when planning future restoration works.

“If we take a look at the history of archaeology in early modern Rome, the care and protection of ancient remains was claimed by two rival administrations – the civic officials on the one side, and the popes on the other,” Karmon explained. “If these overlapping spheres of responsibility caused inevitable chafing and tension, they also provided a key control measure by ensuring that neither side was completely free to intervene as they pleased on the ancient sites. Our interventions today follow the same standards, where the fate of a historic or cultural site is not left up to the decision of a single private entity, but where all interventions remain subject to public review and approval.”

The conflicting interests of the public and private sector could help provide an important balance when planning future restoration works

The list of Rome’s ancient monuments is a long one. Over the years, these 2,000-year-old structures have stood firm against marauding invaders and natural disasters, and long outlived the Roman Empire itself. But the passage of time provides a constant threat to their survival.

If the private sector is to offer a helping hand in their preservation, it will need to take the concerns of government ministers, academics and ordinary citizens seriously. Private funding can provide a lifeline for crumbling monuments, but when corporate marketing cheapens cultural artefacts – whether in Rome or anywhere else – the world is a poorer place for it.

Rome city diary

Rome Marathon
Various locations
March 22

Boasting one of the most scenic routes in the world, the Rome Marathon attracts runners from across the globe. Participants begin and end the race in the shadow of the Colosseum and pass other major sights including St Peter’s Basilica and the Piazza del Popolo. This race combines athleticism and culture like no other.

Easter Mass
St Peter’s Square
April 1

Although large-scale Easter celebrations can be found in Christian countries all over the world, they are truly unique in Rome – or Vatican City, to be precise. By reserving a free ticket in advance, you can observe the Easter Mass in St Peter’s Square, followed by the papal address Urbi et Orbi.

Codemotion Rome
Roma Tre University
April 13-14

Aimed at connecting software developers, tech communities and IT companies, the Codemotion Conference is a hub of innovation. With keynote speakers chosen from a broad spectrum of industries, it provides businesses with a great opportunity to network and discover the latest tech trends.

Natale di Roma
Piazza del Campidoglio
April 21

Every year, Rome celebrates its birthday on April 21, recognising its founding all the way back in 753 BC. Although events will take place throughout the city, many of them are focused on the Piazza del Campidoglio and have previously included fireworks displays, gladiator trials and historical reconstructions.

International Conference on Big Data Management
NH Roma Villa Carpegna
May 3-4

Bringing together leading academics, scientists and researchers, the International Conference on Big Data Management aims to discuss the most recent innovations and challenges in the field. With more data being created than ever before, it’s quickly becoming a key consideration for successfully doing business worldwide.

Italian Open
Foro Italico
May 7-20

One of the most important competitions on the clay-court circuit, the Italian Open tennis tournament, which is played in the lead-up to the French Open, has previously been won by the likes of Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. It may not be a Grand Slam, but expect to see some top quality tennis over the course of the two-week tournament.

Vino e Arte che passione
Casino dell’Aurora Pallavicini
May 20

Combining two of Italy’s finest products, this festival in celebration of wine and art takes place in the picturesque baroque setting of the Casino dell’Aurora Pallavicini. With more than 50 of the region’s wineries set to attend, the festival provides a unique opportunity to taste some of the country’s finest wines and enjoy a guided tour of the casino’s extensive private art collection.

Rock in Roma
Capannelle Racecourse
June 20-July 19

Now in its 10th year, Rock in Roma is one of the foremost music festivals on the international music calendar. Spread across various dates throughout June and July, the festival brings the very best that the genre has to offer to the capital city’s Capannelle Racecourse. Confirmed artists for 2018 include the Killers, the Chemical Brothers, Macklemore and Roger Waters.

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