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Commercialising The Colosseum

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November 15, 2010 City And People, News & Oddities No Comments

Restauration sponsor advertising on monuments in Italy has sparked a debate about what kind of advertising is appropriate, and who decides. Since August, and through to the end of October, Italy is looking for a corporate sponsor willing to foot the entire 25 million euro bill to refurbish the 2000-year-old Colosseum, in return for advertising rights on the monument itself, as well as several associated perks, such as exclusive video documentation rights to the restauration. While partial sponsoring is of such restaurations is common, this is the first time that a European state has sought a sponsor to cover the full cost of a project. Why? Italy’s financial situation (its 2009 debt surpassed all other EU countries, at 115.8 percent of gross domestic product) resulted in Culture Ministry budget cuts, which are straining the country’s efforts to maintain its monuments.

2080308076 57249f45dc 300x225 Commercialising The Colosseum

Billboard Scaffolding in Italy

And the Colosseum is in need of some attention: The steady flow of tourists, and the landmark’s exposure to heavy traffic has taken a toll on the monument. While recent works have been conducted to restore and reopen the underground passageways, where animals and gladiators were kept, further scheduled work will focus on cleaning the exterior walls, and building a visitors’ center.

The New York Times describes the common procedure which churches, monuments and palaces in Rome undergo when being renovated:

First, scaffolding is erected around the building. Then the scaffolding itself is wrapped in artfully printed screening resembling, at first glance, the building underneath.

Then – and this is the contentious part – some sizable area of the screening is given over to an advertisement for anything from motor scooters to lipstick, and the income from the advertisement is used to pay for the renovation.

At first that may seem a perfect, virtuous free-market circle, a symbiosis of capitalism and culture. And since the system came into use in 1997, several dozen monuments have been renovated in this way.

But in the past couple of months, things seemed to get out of hand. In the Piazza di Spagna, a 2,150-square-foot advertisement for L’Oréal lipstick at the top of the grand Spanish Steps, with an image of a woman’s face, seemed so overpowering that city authorities decreed that future advertisements must be less striking.

While it is  these monuments are kept in good condition, but at what price? Are Italian city centres being assaulted by bad taste? A photo gallery of Venice shows a further example of the extent to which such advertising is seen around Italian city centres. Here, the Bridge of Sighs has seen ads by Bulgari, Moët & Chandon, and Coca Cola.

What is your take on this dilemma?

Photo Courtesy of David Barrie.

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