Recently, city officials in Rome unveiled the Barcaccia fountain, which had been under wraps for the past year so it could be cleaned. The Barcaccia is now gleaming, as you can see in the photo above, and provides a pleasing visual for all those tired souls taking a breather on the Spanish Steps.
The Barcaccia was in a sad state before it was restored. Grime and soot from city pollution greatly weathered the early 17th century travertine fountain and the mineral-heavy Roman water had left dark and slick lime and calcium deposits on the fountain.
In the years before the fountain underwent restoration, the “bathtub,” as it’s affectionately called, had become unremarkable despite it having been designed by Pietro Bernini, the father of Gianlorenzo, Rome’s Baroque artist of choice. Here’s a photo of the Barcaccia from the Sovraintendenza Roma before it was cleaned:
There has been some controversy over the funding of the Barcaccia’s restoration as well as that of many other landmarks, in Rome and elsewhere in Italy. The City of Rome accepted advertising to defray the costs of the €210,000 cleaning and will do so with some other projects.
In other cases, like with the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum (both of which are undergoing restoration through 2016), big name sponsors have stepped in to pay for the enormous cost of cleaning and conserving a major landmark.
“There is a fear of rampant commercialism,” says the New York Times, “especially in a country where it has only recently become common for companies to contribute to public projects.”
Fashion house Fendi is footing the $2.9 million bill for the Trevi Fountain while Tod’s, headed by Italian billionaire Diego della Valle, has given €25 million to give the Colosseum its first ever cleaning.
Della Valle was one of the first entrepreneurs to step up and offer funding for landmark restoration, but it has had a ripple effect — at least on wealthy fashion house scions — from Rome, where Bulgari-sponsored restoration will soon begin on the Spanish Steps, to Milan, where Versace and Prada have kicked in funding for a restoration of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
From a profile on Diego della Valle in the Wall Street Journal:
“I know a lot of brilliant entrepreneurs in Italy,” says former Gucci Group CEO Domenico De Sole, who has known Della Valle for nearly two decades, “and they won’t touch the [public] system with a 10-foot pole. The country is overwhelmed with debt. It’s totally off the charts. Everyone talks about it, but no one does anything. The fact that someone is finally stepping in and saying, ‘I’ll start, I’ll do it,’ is amazing.”
It’s heartening that these necessary projects have been started or are being discussed. My hope is that Italy will find a tasteful way to do corporate social responsibility so that locals and tourists can enjoy the country’s best treasures for many years to come.