Sep 20, 2012

Austerity, Sponsorship and Preservation in Italy

A structure in Pompeii in 2011
There is a report in the Daily Beast about the difficulty Italy may be having in preserving its considerable heritage:

For the last several months, chunks of marble have been plummeting from the Colosseum, ancient walls have been reduced to rubble and even bits of the baroque Trevi Fountain have crumbled, changing forever the face of that illustrious monument. And that’s just in Rome. In Naples, the Royal Palace has fractures in its façade and once-glorious fountains in the city’s squares are covered in graffiti. Pompeii is at risk of becoming a wasteland as its ruins disintegrate to dust due to lack of maintenance. In Emilia Romagna, important churches and clock towers damaged in a series of springtime earthquakes will never be repaired. There simply is no money left in Italy’s tightened budget to take care of the country’s cultural heritage. Austerity measures to combat Italy’s stifling public debt and save the country from default has meant there is little money left over for anything but the bare necessities. But the bigger problem is that basic maintenance on many of the country’s cultural gems has been neglected for years. Recent budget cuts are just the last nail in the sarcophagus. In reality, the culture budget has been the first to be cut for the last several years. A full third—€1.42 billion—has been slashed from the culture budget in the last three years, meaning vital maintenance on some of the country’s most important monuments was never carried out.
I'm always skeptical of English language reporting of ways in which Italians aren't caring for their heritage. But cutting a culture budget by 1/3 is a drastic step. Of course cuts of all kinds are taking place, it was recently announced that the Georgia State archives will be closed after Nov. 1. I for one won't shed a tear for a bit of the gaudy Trevi fountain crumbling, and the pressures on Pompeii are nothing new. But so many cuts to heritage protection by a nation that respects and values its past is a sad sign of the difficulty facing culture ministries all over the world. It is no surprise that asking for sponsorship from the private sector may be a viable alternative. Selling the buildings may appear to be a drastic step, but there are historic preservation rules in place in Italy which would largely preserve the appearance of the protected buildings, if not the public access.

  1. Barbie Latza Nadeau, Italy’s Culture Falling to Ruins Amid Austerity Cuts, The Daily Beast (Sep 19, 2012).

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