• Italy's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Opinion
Is red tape threatening Italy's prized ruins?
Contractors maintaining Pompeii are often 'underskilled'. Photo: Kimberly Ross

Is red tape threatening Italy's prized ruins?

Rosie Scammell · 20 Jan 2014, 16:00

Published: 20 Jan 2014 16:00 GMT+01:00

Last year, UNESCO threatened Italy with removing the prestigious World Heritage status from Pompeii, as walls fell around the country’s most famous ancient site. The move reflected broader international concern that Italy, struggling in the depths of an ongoing recession, had abandoned its world-renowned heritage.

Reports on Monday also revealed that the Italian government is planning even deeper cutbacks on its prized heritage.

READ MORE: Italy culture cuts are 'disturbing': association

But while the spending parts are a concern, experts tell The Local there are broader issues at play. 

These include the way work gets done in Italy, with companies cutting corners to win bids on restoration work and the government failing to pay its staff and contractors for months on end.

Those who do have money to spend on Italian heritage - including philanthropists and international organizations - often face bureaucratic hurdles which mean those that do persevere must wait years to get anything done.

“I don’t think we can attribute everything to the recession; the recession has made a bad situation worse,” says Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, a former director of the British School at Rome, one of the capital's archaeological academies. 

Despite having more sites on the World Heritage list than any other country - 49, ahead of China’s 45 - Wallace-Hadrill says there has been “an historical underfunding of heritage” in Italy.

But whereas sites across the country may be suffering from budget cuts, the same cannot be said of Pompeii, the city wiped out by a volcano in 74AD, which saw a €105 million conservation project get underway last February.

SEE ALSO: 'Pompeii needs an archaeologist at the top'

Yet still the walls fall down - the result of outsourcing precious maintenance work to underskilled builders, according to Wallace-Hadrill. While outsourcing is not a bad thing in principle, he says the current way it is done “is not fit for purpose”.

“They say, ‘This particular house is in a terrible state, let’s do a big project on this house’. They put it out to tender, then companies under-bid each other,” Wallace-Hadrill adds.

Not only does this lead to cutting corners, but the whole process takes years and leads to future damage on site.

If outsourcing is necessary, contracts should be given for continuous maintenance rather than only after something goes wrong. Wallace-Hadrill’s view is echoed by Darius Arya, CEO of the Amer­i­can Insti­tute for Roman Cul­ture.

“When a disaster happens, such as a wall collapsing, the money is there. But if you spend a little bit of money consistently, then you won’t get to those disasters. It continues to be badly run,” he tells The Local.

The Colosseum can be seen as a prime example of how poor management and bureaucracy can burden Italy’s ancient sites.

Work finally began on the Rome amphitheatre in September, three years after Diego Della Valle, owner of Tod’s shoes, announced a €25 million donation for its restoration.

Diego Della Valle by Gabriel Bouys AFP

Diego Della Valle, chief executive of Tod's shoe company, donated €25 million to the Colosseum. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

“They set up a bidding war; both builders and conservationists wanted to do the work. Then there were court cases and appeals and now finally the work is ready to go,” adds Arya.

While the Tod’s investment “can do a great thing in Italy”, Arya says there are better ways to channel corporate investment into heritage.

“[The American Institute] is set up as an educational organization, so I don’t have bidding wars. If I do a project and get money from McDonald’s, for example, they give the money to us as a non-profit organization and we don’t have to worry about hold ups like those at the Colosseum,” he explains.

While applauding Italy’s attempt to find alternative sources of funding, Wallace-Hadrill is sceptical of corporate sponsorship, asking: “Can you trust a commercial sponsor to act in the interests of heritage of the public in general. as opposed to its own interests?”

Della Valle’s money would have been better channeled through a foundation, in the same way funds are directed through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation rather than the billionaires’ company Microsoft, Wallace-Hadrill adds.

Additionally, the government should grant tax incentives for such donations. “Don’t charge VAT on work done by philanthropic sponsorship [and] if the sponsor is an Italian taxpayer, allow them to discount the philanthropy from their tax bill,” he says.

While wealthy donors are valuable, Arya argues that there should also be more opportunities for individual visitors to contribute.

Story continues below…

“If you go to the UK or the US, it’s very clear that you can contribute money right there and you feel confident about where it’s going. Show great projects that are successful and promote them; give more of a say to the visitor,” he says.

Italy should also be harnessing mobile technology for on-the-spot donations and give museums the option of crowdfunding to fund particular projects, he adds.

SEE ALSO: 'Tourism is our industrial future': Italian tycoon 

In order to save Italy’s ancient sites, the government must also pay more attention to their modern-day workers. “The typical situation is that people do something for the government and get paid weeks or months later. You’ve got to pay the employees and the contractors have to get paid too,” Arya says.

Such delays in paying salaries and getting work underway has led to the workforce's “growing sense of complete despair” according to Wallace-Hadrill.

“[It’s] despair about the way the system of government has let them down,” he says, citing Pompeii as a case in point: “Government after government has sent in the fire engines to Pompeii, rather than taking a measured long-term look.”

From badly-organized bids to mismanaging money, Italy needs a new approach to make the most out of its world-renowned heritage. “Fewer fire engines, more support,” says Wallace-Hadrill.

Don't miss a story about Italy - Join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Rosie Scammell (rosie.scammell@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Italy quake: homeless to leave tent camps next month
Some 2,700 people lost their homes in the quake. Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP

Those left homeless after Wednesday's devastating earthquake in central Italy will be moved out of their tent camps by the end of September.

Facebook CEO in Rome for chat with staff...and a jog
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is in Rome on Monday for a Q&A with employees. Photo: Drew Angerer/AFP

The billionaire arrived in the Italian capital after spending a week in Lake Como, where he attended the wedding of Sofia and Daniel Ek, the CEO of Spotify.

Gene makes coffee-lovers full of beans: Italian study
How much coffee you drink could come down to your genetic make-up. Photo: McPig/Flickr

A groundbreaking study carried out in coffee-mad Italy has helped identify a gene scientists say could regulate our appetite for espressos and cappuccinos.

The incredible hero dogs of Italy’s earthquake
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

For 40 minutes before an earthquake struck central Italy in the early hours of last Wednesday, a pet dog, living with its family in Poggio Castellano, a hamlet near Amatrice, kept barking.

Drawing out children's trauma in quake-hit Italy
Following the quake, a play area for affected children has been set up in Amatrice. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Inside a shady tent in the middle of quake-hit Amatrice, a little girl hunches over a table drawing a picture of the soaring mountains overlooking this small Italian town.

Pope wants to visit quake-hit villages
’I hope to come and see you,’ the pope said. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto /AFP

Pope Francis said Sunday he wanted to visit some of the central Italian villages devastated in this week's earthquake, as survivors and rescue workers dug in for the long haul with winter approaching.

Why quake-hit Amatrice will never be the same again
Amatrice had been due to host its Amatriciana pasta festival this weekend. Photo: Angela Giuffrida

The Lazio town of Amatrice was the hardist-hit by Wednesday's devastating earthquake. The Local's Angela Giuffrida visited what is left of the town on Friday.

Italian flags at half mast for quake victims
More than 280 people were killed in the 6.2-magnitude earthquake that struck on August 24. Photo: Andreas Solaro /AFP

Flags flew at half mast across Italy on Saturday as the country observed a day of mourning for the victims of an earthquake that killed nearly 300 people.

Italy earthquake
Italy prepares to mourn earthquake dead
Collapsed buildings in Amatrice. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

No survivors have been found since Thursday.

Italy earthquake
Rescuers search for 15 still missing in Amatrice
A suitcase in the rubble of a collapsed home in Amatrice. Photo: Angela Giuffrida/The Local

A team of specialist rescue workers from Shanghai is searching for 15 people unaccounted for in Amatrice, the Lazio town torn apart by Wednesday's devastating earthquake.

Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
National
Why discontented Italians could derail their economy
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
Keep passports safe: Typical pickpocket scams revealed
Culture
Why coffee in Italy is a culture you must taste to understand
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Society
The richest families in Florence in 1427 are still rich today
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Culture
So why do pasta-loving Italians live such long lives?
National
Italy's Renzi prepares for stormy autumn
Society
This 104-year-old just saw the sea for the first time
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
National
Should Rome give up on its 2024 Olympic dream?
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Society
The Italian doctor giving hope to thousands of migrants
Culture
Ten 'Italian' dishes that don't actually exist in Italy
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Sport
Five Italian athletes going for gold at the Rio Olympics
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Travel
Trastevere: From a fiery past to Rome’s souvenir stand
Politics
Think Trump would be a disaster? Just ask the Italians
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
How Brexit has helped to expose Italy’s banking malaise
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Politics
After Brexit, keep a close eye on Italy's Five Star Movement
Lifestyle
12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Italy
National
Why Milan could be Europe's post-Brexit financial hub
Travel
Five crowd-free alternatives to Italy's tourist hotspots
National
Italian hotspots struggling with 'too many tourists'
Culture
Meet the Italian chef behind the world's best restaurant
2,499
jobs available