April 8, 2009 / 4:16 PM / 10 years ago

Countries may help Italy rebuild cultural sites

ROME (Reuters) - Other countries may help Italy rebuild cultural sites destroyed in the earthquake that hit the country this week, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Wednesday.

Firefighter Roberto Contu of the Rome's S.A.F team inspects the damaged Duomo church downtown Aquila April 8, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

Berlusconi told a news conference Italy had turned down offers of immediate humanitarian aid for the victims of the earthquake, which killed 260 people according to the latest figures.

However, he said he had discussed with some foreign leaders a plan for individual governments to offer to pay for the restoration of an individual church or cultural heritage site that had been damaged or destroyed.

“The site could then be re-named after the nation that helped restore it, for example ‘The American Church’,” Berlusconi said in L’Aquila, the town worst affected.

Diplomatic sources said earlier Berlusconi mentioned the idea to U.S. President Barack Obama in a telephone call on Tuesday and that Obama expressed interest.

The earthquake devastated some of the country’s lesser known but equally precious ancient churches and slightly damaged the Roman Baths of Caracalla, 100 km (60 miles) from the epicenter.

The Culture Ministry said the quake had partially destroyed at least four Romanesque and Renaissance churches and a 16th century castle.

Part of the nave of the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, one of the area’s best-known churches, collapsed.

The building, with its beautiful decorated pink-and-white facade combining Romanesque and Gothic architecture, hosted the crowning of Pope Celestine V in 1294 and attracts thousands of pilgrims every year.

To the north, the bell tower of the lavish Renaissance Basilica of San Bernardino also crumbled.

The mountain town of L’Aquila has a history of powerful earthquakes and was almost wiped off the map by one in 1703.

Additional reporting by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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