So, Italian politicians in their infinite wisdom go to the market place in a desperate grab for money to pay for the upkeep of this country’s magnificent artistic and historical patrimony. An August 4 announcement in Rome declares that the successful bid to become the surrogate ‘owner’ of the world renowned Colosseum will pay for 100% percent of the much needed restoration of this ancient site, in exchange for advertising rights and associated perks linked to the site. Now this is Italy and when I read associated perks, I wince with fear, because I can only imagine what associated perks mean in a country that over the last five years has seen an explosion of high rise building sized advertisements plastering ancient edifices that overlook some of Italy’s more beautiful locations, including St. Marks square in Venice! Private enterprise would also control, to a large degree, the price of tickets and you know what that means?! Italy has one of the world’s most important artistic and historical patrimonies, with streams of tourists annually coming to see the history and the art, adding a substantial and extremely important stream of income to the national coffers. Yet this country spends only 0.3% of the annual government budget on cultural initiatives, and maintenance of historical sites, well behind the European average of 1.5%.
The City of Rome says a sum of 25 million euros (approx. US$33 million) is required to fund the cost of a much needed refurbishment of the Colosseum, one of the world’s most visited ancient sites, that attracts more than five million visitors annually, paying approximately 35 million euros in ticket sales alone. You might be thinking why doesn’t the ticket sales alone pay for the Colosseum restoration? A good argument that falls on the deaf and greedy ears of an Italian central government that plunders almost completely, the healthy revenues generated by the much visited historical sites and museums in this country. Sadly that revenue disappears into a black hole so large and bottomless; one begins to wonder if the Italian political class has any real interest or idea as to how to manage this wonderful country.
The great Italian comic Toto' in his 1962 film 'Tototruffa' might have set a precendent when he successfully sold the Trevi Fountain to a truly gullible visitor to Rome! Today's Italian politicians are like pirates plundering a magnificent treasure chest until its empty, but we are not so gullible!