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Italy Courts Chinese Investors to Restore Ancient Sites

  • Reuters

FILE - The Catacombs of Priscilla stretch for kilometers underground in Rome, Nov. 19, 2013.

FILE - The Catacombs of Priscilla stretch for kilometers underground in Rome, Nov. 19, 2013.

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 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 Wednesday.

Individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations need to have registered offices in Italy to be able to take advantage of the 65 percent tax breaks. 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.

FILE - This photo taken Oct. 2, 2009, shows a view of mummified corpses in the Capuchins' Catacombs in Palermo, Sicily, southern Italy.

FILE - This photo taken Oct. 2, 2009, shows a view of mummified corpses in the Capuchins' Catacombs in Palermo, Sicily, southern Italy.

The number of Chinese visitors 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.

Rome's Domus Aurea, a golden palace the Emperor Nero built as a monument to himself, which was reopened in 2014 after being closed for almost a decade amid fears for its structural safety, is also on the list, along with a Bourbon palace in Caserta.

FILE - The newly restored Trevi Fountain is lit during the official inauguration in Rome, Italy, Nov. 3, 2015.

FILE - The newly restored Trevi Fountain is lit during the official inauguration in Rome, Italy, Nov. 3, 2015.

Some of Europe's oldest Greek temples, a necropolis of 20,000 Etruscan catacombs, an ancient settlement near Rome and an archaeological museum in the southwest are also hoping for a windfall.

Franceschini said benefactors using the scheme had poured in 100 million euros ($110 million) since it was introduced in 2014. Private donors have shelled out for restorations including a 2.2 million euro facelift for Rome's Trevi Fountain, paid for by fashion house Fendi. Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov donated 1.5 million euros to renovate a basilica in the Roman Forum.

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