Letters from Rome
Letters from Rome
ROME – The good news is that during the three days of the European Christmas holiday—Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St. Silvester’s on Dec. 26—some 64,000 people visited Italy’s thirty most important cultural sites, 17% more than last year. Even on Christmas Day the sites—they included Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo, Turin’s Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, the Pinacoteca di Brera art gallery in Milan, the Reggio castle at Caserta—were kept open, and entry was free.
The bad news is that, as part of Premier Mario Monti’s budget package, restoration funding for churches, museums, archaeological sites and libraries will be slashed by $73.4 million. The reasoning is understandable: something has to go, and that amount, taken from the charity donations that are part of the annual income tax payment (“otto per mille”), is normally devolved toward restoration projects. Instead, this year’s money will be used to try to ease the situation in Italy’s drastically overcrowded prisons.
This is not the first time.
In 2004, the charity tax fund was diverted to help fund the war in Iraq, under a slogan, perhaps, of “make war not restorations.” This year’s call is more comprehensible, but nevertheless a choice that should not have been imposed in Italy, a country which quite properly takes pride in, and makes money from, its myriad splendid cultural heritage sites and museums, and has an obligation to protect its heritage, down to and including its medieval archives.
On the other hand, the Minister of Culture, political scientist Lorenzo Ornaghi, who was, untilentering the Monti government last month, rector of Milan’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, may have reasoned that enough money is being poured into Pompeii to compensate for a cut-back even if other cultural areas will be penalized. It is true that Pompeii has been crying out for help. In November of 2010 the Domus of the Gladiators collapsed, followed by a 24-foot section of ancient city wall. A few days before Christmas 2011 a pilaster holding up the pergola at the lovely House of Loreio Tiburtino fell down. “This confirms the fragility of Pompeii,” said the General Secretary of the Ministry, the architect Antonia Pasqua Recchia.
The sense of urgency is palpable, and among others regional governor Stefano Caldoro recently met with an American movie producer interested in developing multimedial theaters. For Pompeii Caldoro also favors more hotels, restaurants, tour routes and cruise ships. Fortunately, other help is on the way. The European Commission has now confirmed that it will provide $61 million of immediate EU emergency funding for thirty-nine projects at Pompeii plus another $49 million by the autumn of 2012. UNESCO funds of $136 million are also en route to Pompeii, under the terms of a three-year plan aimed toward an upgrade of restoration efforts.
For a sponsor, Pompeii with its 5 million annual visitors would presumably be a high-class cultural boom box, and so Epadesa, a consortium of 2,500 primarily French businessmen, in coordination with local Neapolitan businesses and industry, is offering from $7 and $14 million annually to sponsor restorations “adoptions” of endangered Pompeian buildings. Similarly, restoration of the Roman Colosseum was awarded to a single sponsor, shoe manufacturer Diego Della Valle, and the pyramid of Caius Sestius will be restored by a Japanese businessman. Just how this sponsor-partnership will work out at Pompeii remains to be seen. In the meantime there are local protests that details are fuzzy and that not all the areas at risk in the Vesuvian sites are receiving the same degree of attention, with Stabiae at the bottom of the priority list.