Sunday, March 20th, 2011
I mentioned in passing last fall that the Italian Culture Ministry was soliciting €25 million (about $35 million) from private donors for a much-needed multi-year restoration of the Colosseum. I noted then that I was too distressed at the nightmarish prospect of advertising spooge being slathered all over the original and greatest of all sports arenas to write a full entry about it. There’s some good news on that score now, so it’s time to share.
First a little background. The Colosseum is in horrible condition. It’s blackened by pollution, weakened by millennia of earthquakes and marble thefts, constantly shaken by the subway that runs right next to it. Last May, chunks of ancient plaster fell from the roof of one of the entrances, crashing through the (obviously misnamed) safety netting to the ground. Thankfully it happened at dawn, because if it had been during visiting hours people could have been severely harmed, even killed.
The Culture Ministry announced in July that they would be accepting bids from private sponsors between August 4th and September 15th. Meanwhile, they weren’t saying much about what private funding would mean in terms of advertising and promotional concessions granted to the donors. Culture Minister Sandro Bondi said at the July announcement that the donors would be allowed to “promote their image,” but that any ads would have to be compatible with the decorum of the building.
That wasn’t exactly reassuring, and when by the fall they hadn’t received a single sponsorship offer, I feared the worst. Money talks and the situation was desperate enough that even if the city or state had wanted to keep things circumspect in theory, it seemed likely to me that they would cave like 2000-year-old plaster chunks if the donation hinged on some dystopic hell of Blade Runner-esque billboarding. They had allowed horrendously huge ads to cover the facades of major buildings in Venice, after all, so there was a precedent.
Finally this January shoe mogul Diego Della Valle of Tod’s stepped up (yuk yuk) and offered to fund the $35 million restoration for the honor of the Made in Italy brand. He was hoping to inspire more of his fellow plutocrats to pitch in on this project and others too. At the announcement of the Tod’s funding offer being accepted, Italian Culture Minister Sandro Bondi said there wouldn’t be shoe commercials on the monument itself, but there were no details beyond that.
I don’t know if it was the protests ignited by the crimes against art, history, architecture and beauty in Venice or what, but it seems the Colosseum has dodged the bullet. For now.
In exchange for its sponsorship, Tod’s will be allowed to publicise the restoration nationally and internationally, to use the phrase “Sole sponsor of the conservation of the Colosseum” together with its brand names, and to publish the conservation process on its website. The project involves not only the consolidation of the AD72-80 amphitheatre’s stonework, but new lighting, a security system, and the development of visitor services.
So Tod’s will get to pimp the restoration in its promotional materials, but the Colosseum itself will not be hitting the ho stroll. Now let’s just keep our fingers crossed that the work gets done on time and on budget (yes, I laughed typing that) because the road to hell is paved with cost overruns.