Italy’s economy is the third-largest in Europe and the country is the fourth-biggest tourist destination in the world after France, the U.S. and Spain. But with debt totaling €1.9 trillion ($2.5 trillion) and the government having introduced three packages of austerity measures in one year, funding for the arts is in short supply.
Agence France-Presse (via Raw Story) reports that only 0.21 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product is allotted to culture. That’s €1.8 billion euros ($2.4 billion) that has to get partitioned out for keeping archaeological sites intact and providing for contemporary artists and their work. Both the La Scala opera house and Piccolo Teatro in Milan had their budgets cut by €17 million euros ($22.4 million) last year.
Some analysts predict that the loss to Italy’s economy could be “permanent.” The Wall Street Journal reports that sales of foreign cars had fallen 21% in the first quarter, as Italians face higher income taxes, higher property taxes and a value-added tax increase.
As writer (of The Name of the Rose) and professor Umberto Eco says,
“Something isn’t working. We haven’t learnt how to make money from our national culture.”
1. The Colosseum in Rome
In the photo above is the Colosseum, built from 72 to 80 under the emperors Vespasian and Titus and further modified under Domitian (81 – 96). The majestic amphitheater could hold 50,000 spectators who clamored to see gladiatorial fights (sometimes involving animals), mock sea battles, re-enactments of famous battles, executions (of Christians and others). Having survived fires, earthquakes, the sack of Rome, plans to turn it into a wool factory (under Pope Sixtus V) and a great deal more, the Colosseum is now endangered by budget cuts to arts funding in Italy.
The Colosseum sits on a well-trafficked street in today’s Rome and pollution is its latest enemy. In 2011, billionaire Diego Della Valle of the Tod’s shoe firm agreed to give €25 million (about $33 million) to restore the structure. The two-and-a-half-year project was to start in March but union protests and investigations have led to Della Valle saying he may withdraw the funds — bad news for the Colosseum as fragments of it have begun to fall off.
Besides the crumbling Colosseum, other archaeological sites in Italy that are in need of upkeep lest they become ruins in a literal sense include Paestum. Founded by Greek colonists, this city in southern Italy is the site of some magnificent Doric temples including a temple of Hera (built around 550 BCE), a temple to Athena (ca. 500 BCE) and beautiful ancient paintings from a tomb.
3. The Town of Pompeii
Partially buried under 13 to 20 feet of ash and pumice after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79, much of Pompeii — along with the remains of people fleeing the volcano — has been preserved. But tourists meet locked doors and can only glimpse the interiors of houses with stunning mosaic floors. In 2010, the “House of the Gladiators” collapsed from heavy rain — and, too, from “mismanagement of funds and a tendency to put off big restoration projects in favor of immediate profit.”
Only one archaeologist is currently employed at Pompeii. The Italian government is hoping to release €105 million euros ($138 million) in funding from the European Union for a four-year maintenance plan that will provide for more archaeological staff and prevent further collapses of the ancient town’s walls.
Perhaps it is time to offer up a prayer to the ancient Roman gods and, in particular, to Robigo, god of rust and mildew?
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Photo of the Colosseum by debs-eye