We had fun with our tongue-in-cheek commentary Colosseum ‘Naming Rights’ about the Italian government’s plea for private funding to restore this seminal landmark. Now, we’re eating some of our words.
Diego Della Valle, owner of the wildly successful Tod’s luxury shoe and accessories company, based in Le Marche, has pledged €25 million (approximately $33 million) to the project. The motivation appears to be noble. Della Valle is quoted in the Wall Street Journal, “You won’t find a Tod’s shoe or bag hanging from the Colosseum’s walls. It’s an undertaking with great cultural relevance and that’s enough. We are ambassadors of Italy’s life style and it’s really our duty to give off a strong symbol.”
Meanwhile, the stunning results of a just completed $1.4 million restoration of the Colosseum’s hypogeum (the levels lying below the ground) are the subject of a fascinating article in this month’s Smithsonian. Heinz-Jürgen Beste of the German Archaeological Institute in Rome, led a team of German and Italian archeologists in a 14-year project deciphering the functions of the hypogeum. This subterranean nerve center housed elaborate mechanisms for storing—and raising to stage level—the scenery, equipment and wild beasts employed in the lavish, gruesome spectacles.
The Colosseum flourished from the first to sixth centuries AD. After the empire crumbled, the massive structure successively became a stone quarry, a dump, and shopping center. All the while, natural decay took its course eventually burying the hypogeum under 40 feet of soil. During Benito Mussolini’s glorification of ancient Rome in the 1930s, crews excavated the earth hiding the hypogeum but the inner workings remained a mystery.
Thanks to the contributions of Tod’s and the scholarship of Beste and other archeologists, the Colosseum will continue to reveal its wonders. But what about the Italian sites (nearly 40 in all) on the World Monuments Fund Watch Sight? This a list that calls attention to endangered cultural locations. Pompeii has been on the list since 1996 and is recently in the news because of the increasing rate in which structures there are collapsing.
The future of these sites is indeed uncertain. Newsweek reports in The Ruined Ruins that the 2011 budget of the Italian cultural ministry, which finances most preservation, is $340 million, down from $603 million in 2008. You can learn more about efforts to save Italy’s treasures at the culture watchdog and education group Italia Nostra site.