It's the Eternal City, built around seven hills. It's filled with history, monuments, ruins, landmarks, famous fountains, squares and people.
It's a city that takes years to really know. It's a place everyone should visit. But...Rome's best monuments are disappearing behind ads as its authorities search for funds to keep the Eternal City in good repair.Although Italy is one of the most artistically rich countries in the world, and tourism one of the country's greatest financial assets, its Cultural Goods Ministry has a smaller proportion of the budget than equivalent ministries in France and Germany. The city of seven hills has the world's largest cultural heritage, but the resources of a Third World country.
Little did the Roman workers who built the Pantheon imagine that their giant temple would still be standing 2,000 years later. They certainly could never have imagined it draped with Versace models and glistening BMWs. But now, as the Rome authorities search for funds to keep the Eternal City on seven hills in good repair, some of the world's most famous brands are eyeing the Pantheon, one of Rome's oldest and most visited monuments and the Coloseum. They want to use its walls as advertising space.
The authorities have signed a deal with a billboard firm to pay for the Pantheon and 48 other treasures to be smartened up. They say they have no other option.
Although Italy is one of the most artistically rich countries in the world, and tourism one of the country's greatest financial assets, its Cultural Goods Ministry has a smaller proportion of the budget than equivalent ministries in France and Germany. The city of seven hills has the world's largest cultural heritage, but the resources of a Third World country.
Advertising has already tempted authorities to less well-known sites. A quick tour of Rome shows that one giant advert is attached to almost every landmark. In the old market square, Campo dei Fiori, a huge pistachio-green Vespa moped is riding across the front of one building, reminding potential buyers that 'even the wind likes to be caressed.
Off the square, a giant baby wearing a leopard-skin nappy is promoting Radio Monte Carlo. A BMW estate car looms large where the Trinita dei Monti church ought to be at the top of the Spanish Steps. A hundred yards from the balcony where Mussolini addressed the crowds in Piazza Venezia, there is a huge lollipop message from L'Oréal. In the Vatican, at the edge of St Peter's Square, Mercedes hails the pope with the message that 'not all dreams disappear at dawn.
But the Pantheon plan is the first ancient Roman monument to be considered as an advertising opportunity.
The plan has great potential, both for publicity and controversy.
The domed temple - built in AD80 and converted into a church around 609 - is seen by most of the estimated 10 million tourists who visit the Italian capital each year. It is surrounded by cafes and restaurants in the Piazza della Rotonda, a favourite gelato stop.
Under the new deal, advertising firm InterPromos hopes the €700,000 restoration will take place before the end of the year. Work is likely to last at least a year, during which scaffolding will be covered with an enormous advert, rotating through different companies. At night it will be illuminated.
Advertising - controlled by law to limit the space and time adverts can be displayed - can help make Italy 'all new and shiny and if the Pantheon project goes well, the samecan be done with the Colosseum and maybe the leaning tower of Pisa one day.
Officials are not the only ones in favour of the advertising solution. Italia Nostra, a pressure group which campaigns to preserve Italy's heritage, believes the short-term 'visual disturbance' of giant adverts is a small price to pay for monuments to be restored. Sadly the days are gone when rich benefactors used to donate millions for the love of art. In the absence of funds and with flaking frescoes and peeling palazzi all over Italy it's time to understand, the rich monuments must be made to pay for the poorer ones: the Pantheon advertisers will be obliged to fund works on more obscure buildings. Onlythe tourists who turn up will find they can't see a monument on seven hills, only an advert.. Something has to be compromised.