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A fashion company is paying to maintain Rome’s Colosseum

September 3, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
The 2,000-year-old Colosseum in Rome is visited by nearly 5 million people every year. But maintaining the site, and Italy’s many other ancient treasures, is a large financial burden for the Italian government. Now, it’s relying on donations from businesses like Tod’s, an Italian fashion company, to keep its cultural legacy intact. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Christopher Livesay reports from Rome.
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CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: More than 25-hundred years after its founding, Rome is a bustling world capital with its history proudly on display. Ancient Romans believed they’d built an eternal city. Some structures are magnificently preserved. For others, the centuries have taken their toll. This is what the Colosseum, built in 70 AD, looked like just a few years ago. Discolored by pollution with loose stones at risk of falling. This is what it looks like today. The exterior gleaming after two years of patching cracks and cleaning the soot and dust. Before and after.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: What makes this restoration in this part of the world so unusual is private money paid to preserve a public treasure. The first phase of a 25-million-Euro, or 30-million-dollar, donation by an Italian fashion company, Tod’s. The government approved and oversaw the work. Barbara Nazzaro is the Colosseum’s Technical Director.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: How important is a restoration like this? Imagine if Tod’s hadn’t donated 25 million Euros? What would be at stake?

BARBARA NAZZARO: We usually do preservation and maintenance works. But, you know, all this money it’s a great help. Because we have it at the same moment, and we can do the external part at one time. Otherwise, we would do it piece by piece, and it would take a lot of time.

BARBARA NAZZARO: This is a historic image of the monument.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Preserving the Colosseum meant leaving certain archeological aspects in tact, like these holes. Many once had lead in them to help fasten the stones and decorate the arena, but during the Middle Ages, scavengers stripped the metal out to melt down and reuse. The pockmarked surface is now considered a key historic feature.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Restorers have cleaned over 32,000 square feet of stone. That was just on the outside. Now they have to start the same process on the inside.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: So are these bricks ancient Roman?

BARBARA NAZZARO: Of course.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: It’s the next phase of the Colosseum project, repairing passageways wild animals and gladiators took to the floor of the Colosseum, where they fought to their deaths. That’s expected to take another year-and-a-half. All of this paid for by Tod’s.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Why did this fashion mogul have to intervene to restore the Colosseum? Why wasn’t the state already giving it the care that it needed?

DANIEL BERGER: The state was giving it care, but not 25 million Euros.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Daniel Berger, a former manager at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, is an advisor to Italy’s Culture Ministry. Tourists do pay about 14 dollars to visit the inside of the Colosseum and fees to other sites. But it’s not enough, says Berger, to cover the cost of Italy’s rare problem: too many relics and ruins.

DANIEL BERGER: It certainly is probably the world’s most numerous concentration of works of art of paintings, of sculptures, of buildings, of churches, of archeological remains. All of these things are concentrated in this country, which is blessed to have all this, but cursed, because it’s something that it cannot maintain by itself.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: The Italian government has pledged to spend a record billion Euros, about 1-point-2 billion dollars on new restoration projects, including for the ancient city of Pompeii and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. But that’s a fraction of what’s needed to maintain neglected art, artifacts, and archeological monuments all over the country. And Berger says, unlike the United States, Italy doesn’t have a great tradition of philanthropists willing to fill the gaps.

DANIEL BERGER: I think in the United States people have this idea that we are lucky. We emigrated to a country that made us relatively comfortable, and we have to give something back. The Europeans in general don’t have that feeling. They’ve always felt that the state, whether it was the king, the princes or the government, is responsible for maintenance of something which is public and that is the culture.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Berger says that attitude is changing as Italy follows America’s example, spurring altruism with tax breaks for companies that donate to cultural institutions. Rome’s Spanish Steps, built in the 18th Century, were just cleaned and restored with money from the jewelry and luxury goods store Bulgari. Fashion house Fendi has donated 3 million dollars to restore the famous and now spotless Trevi Fountain and other fountains in Rome. The government credits Tod’s President, Diego Della Valle, for kicking off this movement. But Paolo Pastorello says the private money is not always being used in the right way. He’s President of Restauratori Senza Frontiere, or Restorers Without Borders, a nonprofit which promotes the preservation of artistic heritage. He says the Colosseum restoration needed more time and money.

PAOLO PASTORELLO: Was it a perfect work? No. In my in opinion the Colosseum work was not perfect and not even finished. Everything was not completely cleaned, and sometimes some was too much cleaned. These are carbonaceous deposits that should have been removed.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Pastorello has complained to Italy’s prime minister about the quality of the work, but the Italian government has said it’s satisfied and has only praise for the companies that sponsored the renovations at the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps. Though consultant Daniel Berger points out, private funds are no magic bullet.

DANIEL BERGER: It’s a bottomless pit. These monuments need constant restoration and care. When you get finished with something like the Colosseum, you practically have to start all over again. Because some plants are sprouting up again.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: We noticed a few weeds were already growing back at the Colosseum. When can we say that all of the work on the Colosseum is done?

BARBARA NAZZARO: Never. Every day we have new work.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Rome’s cultural heritage comes with an “eternal” maintenance bill.

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