60 Minutes: Italy’s Roman Colosseum, Trevi Fountain + Rialto Bridge

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60 Minutes: Saving History

According to 60 Minutes, 2/3 of the world’s cultural treasures are held in Italy. But the country is in financial trouble, preventing it from maintaining this wealth of riches. According to correspondent Morley Safer, the country has too much debt and corruption. In an effort to save these pieces of the country’s and the world’s history and culture, Italy’s fashion industry has offered to pitch in.

You might be surprised to learn that the Colosseum in Rome is on the list of things Italy can’t seem to maintain. Rome is known as the eternal city, and it has plenty of religious history. It’s estimated that it could have held about 50,000, though that would have depended on the size of their butts, according to Professor Kimberly Bowes, director at the American Academy in Rome.

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She is an expert on Mediterranean history and she knows the Colosseum inside and out. Bowes gave 60 Minutes access to a stunning view from high atop the structure, constructed by slaves in just a decade, about 50 years after Christ’s crucifixion. The building played host to entertainment ranging from gladiators to comedians.

60 Minutes: Roman Colosseum

60 Minutes: Italy's Roman Colosseum, Trevi Fountain + Rialto Bridge

60 Minutes visited Italy, where fashion icons are picking up the government’s slack, footing the bill to restore the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and more. (Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com)

“The whole point is to produce marvels, to produce a spectacle that would have amazed the audience,” Bowes said of the Colosseum. The most powerful sat at the bottom, while those of least status—”slaves and women,” per Bowes—would have been near the top.

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Safer compared gladiators to movie stars, even though they were slaves. You might have seen some of this played out by Russell Crowe and others in the film Gladiator. Bowes approved of the historical accuracy in that film’s recreation of the arena. Beneath the structure was its backstage equivalent, where dungeons and corridors led to various entertainment prospects, such as wild animals.

The Roman Catholic Church has considered the structure a symbol of early Christian martyrdom. While Bowes admits that some were executed elsewhere, she said there is no evidence any of it happened at the Colosseum; she even said it would have been politically disadvantageous, possibly causing the audience to root for the brave and seemingly fearless Christians.

60 Minutes: Diego Della Valle Colosseum

The Colosseum brings in six million tourists annually, and costumed gladiators pose for photo ops each day. The building has survived its share of natural disasters, but now 60 Minutes said it’s facing a political threat. Colosseum director Rossella Rea said needed funding to support crowd control and maintenance is nowhere to be found, estimating it meets about 5% of the need.

Rea agreed with Safer’s remarks that the bureaucracy was standing in the way. However, help is on the way, in the form of a $35 million donation from businessman Diego Della Valle, CEO of Tod’s leather luxury goods.

Delle Valle said he is proud of his Italian heritage, and wanted to give back some of his spoils to his country. His funds are supporting low-tech work of hand-cleaning centuries of dirt, without using chemicals. There are at least three more years of work ahead just to clean the travertine, a type of limestone.

60 Minutes: Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps & Rialto Bridge

Della Valle is not the only fashion icon to pitch in. Fendi has donated $3.5. million for new plumbing at the Trevi Fountain, often remembered from the film La Dolce Vita. Silvia Fendi credited the movie with making the fountain such a world icon.

She is continuing her grandfather’s 90-year-old business, and she is giving back to the fountain, now closed for repairs. Meanwhile, Bulgari is footing the bill to clean and repair the Spanish Steps.

A Japanese company will restore the Pyramid of Cestius, built 20 years before Christ’s birth. The man behind Diesel jeans, Renzo Rosso, gave $7 million to clean and improve the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal.

60 Minutes: Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi

Rosso is a self-made man, who built the Diesel brand and is now headquartered in Silicon Valley. Fashion is the rare bright spot in Italy’s rough economy, where tax evasion and corruption are commonplace.

He told 60 minutes that Italians have grown weary of the corruption, with an estimated 40% of people not paying taxes. Even Pope Francis has railed against the problems, while new prime minister Matteo Renzi is out to destroy the existing political establishment.

Della Valle hopes that the new way of thinking will take hold and bring in lasting change. Even his generous donation was stuck in red tape for three years before the project began. If you’re planning that dream trip to Italy, you may want to check and see what will be open during your visit. Meanwhile, it’s probably a good idea to learn from Italy’s lessons if you are a student of government reform and/or corruption.

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