Italy's historical sites get $1.55 billion boost

ROME • Italy said on Monday it was earmarking €1 billion (S$1.55 billion) for cultural investments, including restoration works in Pompeii, the Uffizi gallery in Florence and the earthquake-hit city of L'Aquila.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told a press conference that the 33 projects in 13 regions of the country constituted "the biggest operation on our cultural heritage in the history of the republic", referring to the period since a 1946 referendum sent Italy's royal family into exile.

One of the biggest windfalls is due to go to an 18th-century prison on the tiny Tyrrhenian Sea island of Santo Stefano, which was closed in the 1960s and has been slowly decaying since.

The ministry said in a statement that the prison, whose cells were built in a horseshoe shape around a watchtower to make prisoners feel they were always being watched, would receive €70 million for restoration and development.

About €40 million will go into the expansion of the Uffizi museum, in particular a plan to open to the public the "secret" Vasari Corridor, which connects the museum to the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and is currently open only to private tours.

Another €40 million goes to the ancient city of Pompeii, frozen in time after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, which spent much of the last decade in the headlines as Roman-era walls and mosaics crumbled away due to poor maintenance.

Unesco World Heritage Site Herculaneum, a richer Pompeii with 75 per cent of its ruins still unexcavated, will get €10 million.

A sum of €30 million is earmarked for the historic centre of L'Aquila, the mediaeval town partially destroyed in a 2009 earthquake that killed 309 people, left around 65,000 homeless and toppled priceless churches and monuments.

Another €20 million will go to restoring the Paestum Museum in southern Italy, on a site which boasts three of the best preserved Greek temples in the world, and €25 million is earmarked for the archaeological park at the Phlegraean Fields, or "burning fields", near Naples.

Other projects include extending the Pinacoteca di Brera gallery in Milan, completing restoration at the Palace of Caserta, near Naples, and finishing an auditorium in Florence.

Mr Franceschini described the "huge leap" in investments as "proof that this government believes in culture driving growth", adding that the cultural ministry had seen its funding increased 27 per cent this year from a year earlier.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'Italy's historical sites get $1.55 billion boost'. Print Edition | Subscribe