Italy courts Chinese investors to restore ancient sites

Wed Jul 20, 2016 1:15pm EDT
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By Isla Binnie

ROME (Reuters) - Italy is courting Chinese investors to help spruce up some of its ancient temples and catacombs, a magnet for tourists but a drain on its strained public finances.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini traveled to Beijing this week to promote the tax credits on donations to the arts that Italy introduced after years of public spending cuts and inefficient management put its vast cultural heritage at risk.

"The involvement of international investors is and will be one of the driving forces for this ministry," Franceschini said in a statement on Wednesday.

Individuals, businesses and non-profit organizations need to have registered offices in Italy to be able to take advantage of the 65 percent tax breaks on offer. Chinese companies have invested heavily there in recent years, buying tire maker Pirelli in 2015 and fashion house Krizia in 2014.

A Chinese consortium is currently in talks to purchase one of the country's top soccer teams, AC Milan.

The number of Chinese holidaymakers has also boomed in recent years - they spent 3.5 million nights in Italy in 2014, a 23 percent rise on the previous year. Chinese police officers even appeared on the streets of Rome and Milan earlier this year to help the rising numbers of their countrymen feel safe.

Seven sites are being presented as potential recipients of funding for restoration, maintenance and improvements. The ministry said some of this heritage "to date has been mostly hidden from the eyes of visitors and tourists".

The locations include a villa outside Rome built by the Emperor Hadrian more than 2,000 years ago and described as "a masterpiece" by United Nations cultural body UNESCO.   Continued...

A worker cleans a mosaic mural depicting Apollo and the Muses found in an archaeological site under the "Terme di Traiano" in downtown Rome July 29, 2011. Picture taken July 29, 2011. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File