Five ‘ghost’ buildings that cost Italy dearly

Italy is a country of half-finished projects. In fact, there are 671 incomplete public works projects across the country, according to data compiled by Linkiesta.

Five 'ghost' buildings that cost Italy dearly
The unfinished polo stadium in Giarre, Sicily. Photo: Incompiuto Siciliano/Flickr

The investigative journalism website said these projects are worth a total €2.6 billion and require a further €1.4 billion of investment in order be completed, which means most of them are destined to remain shelved for the foreseeable future.

In July, we wrote about the hotel that hasn't seen a guest in 61 years and the hospital which, despite work on it beginning in 1957, has yet to treat a patient. 

So we decided to come up with some more examples of unfinished projects.

Below is a round-up of our favourite 'ghost' buildings in Italy and the incredible stories behind them.

Giarre's polo stadium – Sicily

The unfinished polo stadium at Giarre. Photo: Incompiuto Siciliano/Flickr

Quite why the Sicilian town of Giarre decided its 27,000 residents needed a 20,000-seater polo stadium is anyone's guess. Polo is not a popular sport in Italy. 

Nonetheless, the local government launched the project in 1985 in order not to miss out on regional funds. As of today, the project is half complete, after works began and stalled repeatedly.

But all is not lost: children use the unfinished pitch as a good spot for a kickabout, while in the evening joggers can be seen doing laps of the athletics track. However, the stands are always empty and are slowly being consumed by vegetation.

The closest thing to a game of polo the stadium has ever seen came in 2012 when a group of youngsters decided to organize an ironic polo match, which they played on sticks with cardboard horse heads attached.

The small town has something of a penchant for unfinished projects – the polo stadium sits next door to an incomplete and empty swimming pool, bizarrely built a couple of meters smaller than Olympic size. 

Lecco youth hostel – Lombardy

The unfinished hostel in Lecco. Photo: Giacomo Reali/Wikimedia

Plans to build a large 200-bed hostel in Lecco, Lombardy, in order to boost tourism in the surrounding area seemed like a good idea. The area is steeped in history and surrounded by the beautiful Bergamo Alps. What could go wrong?

The first stone was eagerly laid in 2006, and in spite of the council paying €2.6 million to a private company to finish the job – the hostel is incomplete and abandoned. 

A recent plan to turn the building into a university dormitory stalled and the local council is now searching for private investors to provide the funds required to finish the job. 

Città Dello Sport Tor Vergata – Lazio

The extravagant sail makes the waste all the more obvious. Photo: Luca Cerabono/Flickr

Planned as a massive indoor sports complex that would host part of the 2009 World Swimming Championships, the proposed site, near Rome, boasts a half-complete sports arena with 8,000 seats and a half-built Olympic swimming pool with space for 3,000 spectators. 

The project was launched with great expectations in February 2006. The Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, designed a gigantic sail as the roof for the complex, which today only makes its failure more conspicuous. 

The project was blighted by spiralling costs. Initially the council set aside €240 million to complete the works but it is now looking for a further €400 million from private investors to finish the complex.

The Giunza tunnel – Umbria/Marche

The premature opening of the tunnel in 1990. Photo: Giacomo Reali/Wikimedia

The Giunza tunnel is a 5.96km tunnel connecting Umbria and Marche on the E78, the super highway that connects the east and west coasts of Italy.

Planning on this great engineering feat began in the 1970s and by 2004 more than 500 billion lire had been spent on the project. The tunnel is largely complete and even received a opening party in 1990, at a cost 300 million lire.

But the party proved premature as the tunnel has never actually been opened to the public, who are still waiting until the money required to finish the project can be found. 

After 40 years, nobody is holding their breath.

La Maddalena's G8 Hotel

Unused equipment in the luxury hotel's gym. Photo: Screengrab/Corriere TV

La Maddalena is a small island off the north coast of Sardinia, which between 1972 and 2008 made most of its money by hosting a base for US nuclear submarines off its shores. 

When this practice finished in 2008 it was decided that the best way for the island to replace its lost revenue was through tourism. 

To help La Maddalena, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi chose the island as the location for the 35th G8 summit, which was hosted by Italy in 2009.

Work immediately started on an ambitious project to transform the island's old arsenal into a luxury hotel complex. 

An estimated €460 million was invested into the hotel, which was to include space for 600 boats, gleaming marble bathrooms, modern artistic sculptures and a fully equipped gym. 

But at the last minute the destination for the G8 summit was moved to L'Aquila as a symbolic gesture following the earthquake which destroyed the city on April 6th 2009.

La Maddalena was left with a largely furnished luxury hotel, but problems soon started to appear. 

The accounts didn't balance and a number of people working on the project were arrested for stealing funds.

Further complications arose as to who actually had responsibility for the site.

But after the town of Maddalena finally trumpeted its desire to finally finish the project earlier this year, tragedy struck: a fire tore through the hotel in March, sending any money invested quite literally up in smoke. 

Italy is not the only European country with an embarrassing backlog of incomplete projects. 

Spain’s building bonanza left the country with a vast array of half-finished monstrosities and pointless prestige projects.

Take a look: Spain's craziest building fails

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What you need to know about opening a bank account in Italy

There are a few things to know before choosing the right place to put your cash in Italy. Here’s our guide to finding the best bank for you.

What you need to know about opening a bank account in Italy

Money makes the world go round, they say, and even in notoriously cash-friendly Italy, your life will be a lot easier if you have somewhere to put it.

But with daunting paperwork, confusing opening hours and array of diverse offerings, interacting with Italian banks can be challenging.

Here’s our guide to opening a bank account in Italy to get you started.

Step one: Know what’s out there

I come from Canada, where you can count the number of big banks on one hand. That means Italy’s banking sector can be a little dizzying in comparison. At the time of writing, Italy has more than 20 banks with assets of more than €10 billion. 

Among the biggest names in Italy are Dutch-based ING, Germany-based Deutsche Bank, Italy’s own Unicredit, and the Banca Nazionale di Lavoro (now owned by France’s BNP Paribas).

READ ALSO: Which are the best Italian banks for foreigners?

Alongside these big national banks, there are regional providers like the Banca Popolare di Puglia e Basilicata or the Banco di Sardegna, which confusingly operate branches far from their respective homelands. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find a Pugliese bank next to a Venetian one in Lombardy, or encounter a local bank that has just a handful of branches throughout the country.

Consider the fees applied to transactions and cash withdrawals when choosing your Italian bank account. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

Disrupting the banking world in recent years has also been the emergence of a whole new crop of online banks, like N26 and HYPE, which offer very low fees by operating no physical branches.

And lastly, there’s the post office: Poste Italiane, in an unholy alliance of paper-based bureaucracy, also operates a consumer bank notorious for slowing down postal lines everywhere.

Knowing the lay of the land will help you pick out the best offering for your life and location. Consider your choice carefully. When we arrived, we chose N26 for its low fees and easy sign-up. But soon, we needed a bigger bank that could offer services like a fideiussione (renter’s guarantee).

Choosing the right bank is about more than knowing if it has a branch in your area — as you settle, a bank’s mortgage offerings, insurance, or high-interest savings accounts may become more important to you.

Step two: Decide what account you need

Technically, if you’re over the age of 18, you’re eligible to open an account in Italy — but most account types are only available to residents, which includes foreign nationals who are here because of a valid job offer or degree program.

The most common account type is a conto corrente or current account (a checking account for American readers). These accounts are designed with daily transactions in mind, meaning there are often opportunities to save on fees by maintaining a minimum deposit or balance.

Ask an expert: Which are the best UK banks for Brits living in Italy?

To earn higher interest, you can place your savings in a conto di risparmio or savings account, which offer fewer transfers and transactions in exchange for higher interest. There is also the conto di deposito, a more restrictive but even higher-interest savings account designed for parking your money just to earn.

Lastly, there are conti correnti esteri, foreign accounts, which can offer deals on wire transfers or allow you to use your home currency and save on exchange fees. These accounts don’t require you to be an Italian resident, making them a good choice for people staying for an indeterminate time.

Step three: Review costs

There’s a reason some of Italy’s nicest buildings belong to banks — this country’s banking fees are among the highest in Europe.

Though comparisons are hard to come by, in 2009 the European Commission found that fees in Italy could be four or five times the amount for the same accounts in the Netherlands, Ireland, or Germany.

But choose the right offer, and they don’t have to be — one analysis found these fees could vary by as much as 10 times between banks.

On average, a typical current account cost nearly €95 per year in 2022, with high-interest savings accounts costing even more. But that average dropped to just €25 for online-only accounts like those offered by N26.

A branch of Unicredit bank in Milan. (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP)

In exchange for these fees, banks offer a range of different services — everything from higher interest to lower transaction fees.

Most banks won’t charge a setup fee, but may charge to issue you with your first debit or credit card. Other services, like cheques, wire transfers, or even ATM withdrawals above a monthly limit are likely to be met with other fees.

Il Sole 24 Ore, one of Italy’s leading financial newspapers, has an online tool that will help you compare bank offers, automatically deducting your expenses from your anticipated interest to show you exactly how much your account is likely to cost.

Make sure to read the fine print — some “fee-free” accounts are promotional offers and expire after a year or so, leaving you paying hefty fees. Others look expensive, but are free if you maintain a low minimum balance or make monthly deposits of just a few hundred euro.

Step four: Visit a branch or sign up online

Now that you know the account type and bank you’re looking for, you can dive into the paperwork.

For a variety of reasons, it’s generally best to wait until you are in Italy to open your account — even in the case of online accounts or conti esteri. Banks will want to mail you your card and know a fixed address in Italy, and you will need an Italian tax code (codice fiscale) to get started in any case.

For online accounts like N26 and HYPE, paperwork is often minimal and requires filing out a few online forms and uploading your ID. 

In physical banks, by contrast, it can be quite extensive, involving a lot of fine print in Italian. If your language skills are poor, consider bringing a friend who can help you review your contracts, or select a bank that you know offers counter service in English.

To open an account, you’ll need the following documents:

  • ID or a passport;
  • Codice fiscale;
  • Residency permit (or, if you’re a non-resident, proof of address like a bill or piece of certified mail); and
  • Proof of your employment income (i.e., a contract or tax return).

Businesses will also need to provide the company’s registration certificate, a certificate of good standing, and statements of the financial status of all shareholders with more than a 20 percent stake in the company.

Take these to your local branch to get the process started. Make sure to check your local bank’s opening hours first — Italian banks are notorious for taking long lunches and closing early in the afternoon.

Closing an account

If you’ve decided it’s time to say goodbye to your bank, it’s unfortunately not quite as simple as visiting a branch.

In most cases, you will need to send a registered letter or raccomandata to your local branch before you show up in person, including signatures from everyone on the account.

And as usual, make sure to read your contract carefully — some banks will even charge a fee to close your account.