Sunday, May 02, 2004

Berlusconi flogs the family silver

Source: The Independent

While the political elites of “Europe” are happily celebrating the “historical” enlargement, Silvio Berlusconi's government is quietly flogging off Italy’s history – in a bid to keep within the Growth and Stability Pact criteria.

The move has triggered a storm of protest from heritage and environmental organisations have pounced angrily on the ministry's initiative. A group of professors and curators published an open letter, warning of "the grave danger to which our cultural patrimony is exposed".

It has been left to hapless the Minister of Culture, Giuliano Urbani, to defend the policy. He is claiming that the State owns far too much: thousands and thousands of buildings and plots of land, some of immense value, such as the Colosseum or Trevi Fountain, others of no real value.

Many were properties bought as part of the practice of lottizzazione, by which the state forked out taxpayers' money to its friends and favourites for their often semi-useless buildings. "We are not talking about selling the Colosseum”, he said.

Nevertheless, some extraordinary properties are going to come on the market, including a well- preserved 2,000-year-old nymphaeum (shrine of the nymphs) in central Rome or the Auditorium of Mecenate, which was once the property of the Emperor Tiberius, a former convent and an ex-monastery, various disused barracks and some thundering 19th-century public buildings.

The eminent art historian and curator Arturo Carlo Quintavalle fears the sell-off will bring about the destruction of a century of conservation work. "Four generations of curators have given their lives protecting objects and environments," he commented. "Now we are to assist in the dissolution of that whole cultural system."

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