Greek bronzes raise hope of southern Italy revival

Greek bronzes raise hope of southern Italy revival
Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
Two remarkably life-like Greek bronze statues have gone on show in the same Calabria region in southern Italy where they were found by an amateur diver 42 years ago.

The impoverished region — notoriously the bastion of the 'Ndrangheta mafia — is hoping that the rare sculptures of two warriors, one younger and one older, will restore its image and help boost tourist numbers. Preparations to display them were painstaking and long-delayed.

"The Riace Bronzes are Back" read a banner outside the Magna Grecia museum in the main city, Reggio Calabria, which opened for visits of the statues last month and will allow visitors to all its collections in June.

The statues, which date back to the 5th century BC, were found by chance just off the coastal town of Riace in 1972 but their origin has remained mysterious.

Simonetta Bonomi, director of antiquities for the Calabria region, said the wait for the bronzes to be returned to their "home" had been a frustrating one.

"In the spring of 2011, the museum was almost finished but the restoration was more costly than expected and the financing took time to arrive," she told AFP-TV.

The latest restoration began in 2009, while previous ones were carried out between 1972 and 1981 and in 1995.

The bearded statues are referred to by restorers simply as "A" and "B" and the tools used to clean them as well as a special camera were inserted through their calves.

"You can imagine the difficulties…. It was a little bit like doing a coloscopy or a surgical operation," said Cosimo Giorgio Schepis, one of the restorers.

The statues, which are around two metres high and weigh some 200 kilograms (441 pounds) each, are displayed on quake-proof pedestals since the area is highly seismic.

The hall in which they are kept is accessible through an air-conditioned chamber in which visitors have to stay for three minutes to eliminate harmful bacteria.

The statues have been praised by art historians for their perfect proportions and realistic details like the veins, the eyelashes and pinkish copper nipples.

The two soldiers were preserved for centuries on the sea bed covered in sand, seaweed and molluscs.

They are already widely featured on brochures, posters and souvenirs of the museum and will be used as part of a Europe-wide publicity campaign for the region.

"The aim this year is to have 300,000 visitors," said Giuseppe Scoppelliti, the regional governor, who explained that during a loan to Reggio Calabria in 1981 there were a million visitors in a single year.

Museum curators say the first signs are encouraging.

In a free night-time opening of the museum last month, organisers said that a total of 5,000 visitors came to gawk at the 2,500-year-old masterpieces.

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