Billboards on Versailles, the Colosseum, or Venice Canals?

As the European financial crisis drags on, money for the continent's numerous architectural and historical resources remains limited. As a result, cities are looking for new revenue streams, including billboards and image rights.
July 13, 2012, 6am PDT | Andrew Gorden
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Anyone following the financial crisis knows just how hard the entirety of the European continent has been hit. With the resulting austerity measures, many of the continent's most treasured monuments are threatened by a lack of upkeep and restoration funds. As Ariana Eunjung Cha, of The Washington Post reports, "Historical buildings, churches, monuments, bridges, barracks, archaeological ruins and other sites are disintegrating from neglect. Local governments, desperate to find a way to preserve these sites before it is too late, are making up for budget shortfalls by hanging ads, selling usage rights and, in some cases, putting the structures themselves on the market."

Not everyone is pleased with the selling off of the continent's historical patrimony. "'Our monuments are being degraded by these exchanges of money between private and public powers. Are we so poor that we have to sell our grandfathers?' said Alessandra Mottola Molfino, national president of Italia Nostra, a cultural heritage group that has campaigned against the Colosseum and Fondaco di Tedesci projects."

According to Cha, "Government officials acknowledge that some of the deals they are striking are not ideal. But the officials are in a race against time. Even before the financial crisis, some local governments did not have enough money to properly maintain historic sites."

Among the countries embracing the monetization of historic sites include Italy, where space on a giant billboard on the Milan Cathedral costs $187,000 a month; France, where "the caretakers of Versailles have agreed to let two hotels open on the palace grounds;" and Spain, where construction of an office tower in the historic city center of Seville has been approved, threatening the city's status as a World Heritage site.

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Published on Monday, July 2, 2012 in The Washington Post
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