The Tarpeian Rock, or Rupe Tarpea, suffered a “mini landslide” last August when chunks of the ancient cliff fell off. Long neglected, the legendary site lies overgrown and often overlooked on the southern side of the Capitoline Hill.
Many visitors flock to visit the Capitoline Museums atop the hill without realizing that a few metres away, covered in weeds and rubbish and intermittently blocked off with security tape, lies a fascinating part of Rome's history.
The rock is named for Tarpeia, a Vestal virgin and daughter of a Roman commander. When Rome was under siege by the Sabines, the legend goes, she offered to betray the city and open the gates to the enemy soldiers in exchange for “what they bore on their left arms”.
She was referring to their splendid gold bracelets; but instead the Sabine warriors, having taken advantage of her offer, gave her the other thing they carried on their arms – their shields. They crushed Tarpeia to death and her body was either buried inside what would henceforth be known as the Tarpeian Rock or hurled from its summit.
Later Romans would use the site to put to death their most notorious criminals, who would be thrown headfirst off the 25 metre drop. The gruesome punishment was reserved for traitors, murderers and rebels whose bloody end was supposed to serve as a warning to others.
'The Tarpeian Rock is close to the Capitol,' an old Roman saying went – in other words, even at the height of power, you're never far from a fall.
The Tarpeian Rock lies behind Rome's city hall. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
The restoration aims to return some of the awe that used to surround the site. Gucci will pay for a “restyling” of the area that will clear paths around the rock, install new lighting and reopen gardens that have lain closed for years.
The work is expect to take a year and a half. Mayor Virginia Raggi said the restoration would turn the area into “a unique and evocative place to host important cultural and artistic events”.
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Italian authorities regularly turn to brands for the cash to preserve Italy's crumbling heritage. Bulgari announced earlier this year that it would clean up the Largo di Torre Argentina, the site where Julius Caesar is said to have been stabbed, and previously paid to restore the Spanish Steps. Fendi funded a makeover of the Trevi Fountain, while Gucci was responsible for revamping the Boboli Gardens in its hometown, Florence.
For the state, such sponsorship deals relieve the expense of maintaining Italy's treasures: while the country has more Unesco world heritage sites than any other in the world, it spends less than almost any other EU nation on public funding for culture.
As for the brands, they get the prestige of having helped save part of the world's history… as well as, perhaps, a few other perks. Gucci was recently given permission to host a fashion show inside the state-owned Capitoline Museums, which house some of Rome's most precious ancient artefacts.