Italy offers to help rebuild Notre-Dame

Italian restorers could use their experience rebuilding ravaged cultural monuments to help repair the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris after its devastating fire, the government has proposed.

Italy offers to help rebuild Notre-Dame
Inside Notre-Dame after Monday's fire. Photo: Amaury Blin/AFP

“The Italian government is prepared to put the Ministry of Culture's experts at France's disposition for the reconstruction efforts on Notre-Dame,” culture minister Alberto Bonisoli announced after flames destroyed the Gothic cathedral's roof and spire on Monday night. 

Italian restorers “have built up considerable technical skills through confronting similar emergency situations here in Italy”, commented Bonisoli, who said he had relayed the offer to France's minister of culture.

“Notre-Dame cathedral is a symbol of France, but also the whole of humanity's heritage,” he said.

Italy has several recent experiences to draw on, having lost and rebuilt two historic theatres and a sacred chapel because of fires in the past two decades.

Venice's opera house La Fenice – “the phoenix”, so named because it was commissioned to replace another Venetian theatre that had burned down – has been restored twice in its 200-year history, most recently after arsonists set it alight in January 1996. It reopened in 2003 after a reconstruction that took two years and around €90 million.

READ ALSO: 'Rise from the ashes': Italian theatre's touching message to Notre-Dame

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

In the south of Italy, Bari's early-20th-century Teatro Petruzzelli was destroyed by suspected arson in October 1991. After languishing in ruins for more than ten years, it was seized from its private owners and rebuilt with some €24 million of public money, reopening in 2009. 

Meanwhile the Chapel of the Holy Shroud within Turin cathedral, which houses one of the Catholic Church's most prized relics, was badly damaged by fire in April 1997 (though the Shroud itself was saved when firefighters smashed through the bulletproof glass protecting it in order to snatch it from the burning building).

It reopened to the public in September 2018, after €30 million of restoration work.

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for Notre-Dame to be rebuilt within five years, “even more beautifully” than before. More than €700 million was donated within the first 24 hours to a fund set up to finance the repairs.


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Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.