The Colosseum in Rome is at the centre of a tug of war between city officials and the Italian government over who gets to run the ancient monument — and who takes home the €35 million in annual ticket sales, cash today pocketed by the Italian state.
After a similar struggle over Michelangelo's David in Florence, Rome city officials are demanding 30 per cent of the money handed over by the Colosseum's four million yearly visitors.
“The Colosseum is one of the symbols of the country and contributes to make Rome the gateway for national tourism,” said the city's culture assessor, Umberto Croppi.
“Rome bears the weight of millions of visitors without receiving any direct benefits.”
Francesco Giro, the government's culture undersecretary, delivered a sharp response, claiming that “the Colosseum belongs 100% to the state and I am amazed at this wish to profit from it.” The government's right to manage Italy's heritage was written into the Constitution, he added.
Built in the first century AD by the emperor Vespasian, the Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre ever built by the Romans, hosting 50,000 spectators for gladiatorial battles, executions and faked sea battles.
The modern clash over its future comes as the Italian government prepares to sell monuments, building and tracts of state land to local authorities in a drive towards more a federal government, a policy lobbied for by the powerful Northern League party.
The League's leader and government minister, Umberto Bossi, has said the measure will help northern Italy get its “lakes and rivers back”. Rome's bid to grab a slice of the Colosseum's income, and the mayor of Florence's attempt to wrest control of Michelangelo's David are seen as bids to jump on the federalism bandwagon.
But Rome and Florence say they need extra funds to survive the financial downturn. “We have to clean Piazza Navona seven times a day due to the number of tourists coming through,” said Rome's deputy mayor, Mauro Cutrufo.
Federico Mollicone, the city official who proposed a 30% cut of ticket sales, said authority over the Roman Forum — a vast archaeological site at the foot of the town hall — could also be contested.
“It is a paradox that the mayor's office overlooks an area over which he has no control,” he told Corriere della Sera. If a cut of ticket sales is not forthcoming, a proposed €1 or 2 surcharge on the €10 entrance fee to top up city coffers would not go amiss, said Cutrufo.
“It would not be a scandal,” he said.
“The Eiffel Tower costs €15 to get into and the London Eye GBP15.” Tourists heading for Rome already face a so-called tourist tax from 1 January 2011 — €2 a night extra on bills at hotels of up to three stars and €3 for four and five star hotels. “Just like they do in Paris,” said Cutrufo.
The deputy mayor ruled out an attempt to take over the ownership of the Colosseum, but argued that on top of the much-needed revenue, Rome should have more say over its management.
“This is after all is a monument that if it were a brand would have a value of €91 billion,” he said.
But Giro said that instead of complaining about cleaning up after tourists, Roman politicians should be grateful for all the cash those tourists spend: “Whoever claims that the Colosseum is only a deadweight would do well to remember that it generates indirect revenue of €1.5 billion.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010