It’s inevitable that something you really want to see when visiting Italy will be “in restauro”, rendered inaccessible or blocked from view by scaffolding and protective fencing. I’ve been thwarted many times when trying to research or photograph monuments and artworks for Jane's Smart Art Guides, being barred entrance to chapels and once even an entire building (the Borghese Gallery), unable to take photographs of fountains, and finding frescoes behind great sheets of canvas.
So -- other than the coincidence of timing – it came as no surprise to learn, the day after launching the Jane's Smart Art Guides audio guide to the Fountains of Rome, Part 1: Acqua Vergine, that the principal fountain - the Trevi Fountain – is “in restauro”! If I actually lived in Rome, instead of just dreaming of living there, I would have known!
"We intervened on Saturday evening, as soon as we knew about the damage," said Rome's superintendent of heritage, Umberto Broccoli. Immediately part of the fountain was fenced off and workers used a mobile crane to assess the damage. During this assessment, additional pieces of the cornice were removed because they appeared to be on the verge of collapse. The city undertook emergency work at a cost of €320,000.
Fast forward two years (and in Italy, a mere two years really is fast forward!) … contractors have been hired, the water’s been turned off and the fountain drained. Happily, the protective barrier that’s been set up around the perimeter is transparent, and a footbridge over the basin has been installed to allows visitors to see the work and get closer to the structure. Apparently the entire restoration will be conducted in public view.
Actually, I wish I could be there to see it this way … a unique opportunity to get really close to the fountain, to see it from a totally different perspective. What a great way to fully understand the scale of this monument! I remember being quite thrilled by how close we were able to get to Michelangelo’s Moses in San Pietro in Vincoli while it was being restored. The elevated walkway took us right past Moses at eye level … closer than I will ever be again.
In addition to restoring the façade that forms the backdrop against the south wall of the Palazzo Poli, the sculptural elements will be cleaned and new pumps, artistic lighting, and barriers to deter pigeons will be installed. The last major restoration was in 1990, but new techniques will make this the most thorough in the fountain's history.
They say that the work will be completed in about a year and a half. "We hope to restore this treasured landmark to the city in the autumn of 2015,” Ignazio Marino, the Mayor of Rome said. But I think that may have been back in April when the work was supposed to start! Oh, me of little faith … but I don’t think we should get our hearts set on seeing the work completed before some time in 2016! Perhaps they’ll prove me wrong.
If you know how cash-strapped Italy’s cultural heritage authorities are, you might well ask, “Where’d they find the funds?” In the past few years, Italy has more and more been looking to private sponsors to help repair long-neglected monuments and archaeological sites. Dependence on private industry to pay for needed restoration has become the norm.
Entitled Fendi for Fountains, in addition to sponsoring the restoration of the Trevi Fountain, this initiative also includes the restoration of the Quattro Fontane -- four fountains that face each other on the corners of Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale. (These fountains, dating to 1590, will be included in my Fountains of Rome, Part 2: Acqua Felice audio guide.) This is a busy intersection, and the fountains have been dirtied over the years by the emissions of the thousands of cars that pass by every day. Conservation work on the Four Fountains has also begun. New hydraulics and lighting will be installed. The project is expected to be completed in Spring 2015.
The work on the Trevi and Quattro Fontane is the latest in a series of privately-funded restorations of Italy's prized landmarks. The Colosseum (Tod's), the Spanish Steps (Bulgari), the Rialto Bridge in Venice (Diesel Jeans), are some of the important historic monuments currently being worked on. In addition, Finmeccanica, a Defense group, has pledged staff and technology worth up to €2 million to a project to prop up the crumbling town of Pompeii.