Plans for the Colosseum's upkeep face the boot
By Peter Mayer Jan 13, 2012, 15:48 GMT
Rome - The most famous mortal combat arena of them all, Rome's Colosseum, has become the theatre of squabbles that threaten to derail what experts say are much-needed measures for its upkeep.
In the latest blow to efforts aimed at the 2,000 year-old structure's safeguard, Italian luxury shoemaker Diego Della Valle has threatened to scrap a 25-million-euro (31.9-million-dollar) sponsorship deal.
'I'm willing to wait but not for long,' Della Valle warned Italy's Culture Minister Lorenzo Ornaghi in relation to the outcome of an investigation on possible bidding contract transparency violations.
Prosecutors in Rome and Italy's highest administrative court are looking into a labour union's claim that rules were broken during the process which saw Della Valle's group, Tod's, win in January 2011 - as the sole bidder - the contract to sponsor the Colosseum's facelift.
The probe stems from complaints by the UIL union and the Codacons consumer group over the deal which gives Tod's exclusive rights to link its brand name with the Colosseum for 15 years.
An initial court verdict on the matter is expected by the end of January.
In the meantime, restoration work which in terms of the agreement with Della Valle was supposed to begin last month, is now only scheduled to start in March.
To complicate matters, and possibly cause another postponement, an association representing Italian artisans specializing in restoration work of historical buildings, is calling for the project to be halted accusing sub-contractors of employing 'ordinary masons' instead of skilled artisans.
'I do not hesitate to call them criminal,' an exasperated Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno said last month describing the various actions that have hindered the start of the project.
'Allow us to restore the Colosseum. What do you want to do? Do you want it to fall to pieces?' Alemanno said this week following Della Valle's threat to quit the project.
Experts insist there is no imminent danger of collapse of the Colosseum which was built between 70 and 80 AD and originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre - after the family name of the emperor Vespasian under whose reign construction began. In its heyday it could seat around 50,000 spectators.
For many, including millions of people visiting the site each year, signs of the decay are clearly evident and are causing concern over the Colosseum's future.
Smog has blackened large portions of its walls while last October heavy rains flooded the ruins of the arena's underground dungeons where wild beasts were once kept before being slaughtered by gladiators during spectacles the Romans called 'Circenses' (circuses).
Other signs of wear and tear have been in part downplayed by officials.
These have included at Christmas the breaking off - the result of a pigeon's movement, according to the site's chief supervisor Rossella Rea - of a fragment from one of the building's arches which left a small pile of debris on the ground below.
On the same day, a balustrade on one of the terraces came loose after a tourist apparently leaned on it, causing the area to be temporarily cordoned off for safety reasons.
While these incidents could have posed dangers to visitors, the building's structure is still solid, according to Italy's national association of archeologists, with the more than 3,000 small cracks that have been detected being carefully monitored with the help of high-tech optical fibres.
'This almost morbid attention given to every cubic centimetre of the Colosseum is surprising,' the association's president, Tsao Cevoli, said commenting media attention given to the recent incidents.
'The real problem to Italy's heritage is not the health of the Colosseum, but the condition of archeological sites across the country,' Cevoli said/
Many of Italy's archeological treasures, including the ruins of Pompey and the Emperor Adrian's Villa at Tivoli near Rome, the Colosseum have faced neglect as Italy's heavily indebted state has found it difficult to marshall the funds needed for the upkeep of monuments.
'The necessary daily care is only possible through the work of technically qualified staff and adequate funds,' Cevoli said.
For Mayor Alemanno the solution for the Colosseum is clear and hinges on the Della Valle sponsorship.
'The Colosseum needs to be repaired immediately, and since public resources are not available, let's not squander the only opportunity we have to repair it with private resources,' he said.