This summer, if you are visiting Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, don’t be surprised to see parts of the Procuratie Vecchie palace concealed behind a hoarding.
Last autumn, Italian insurers Generali Group announced that it will undertake a restoration of the building – which it has been headquartered in since 1832 – in partnership with world-renowned architect David Chipperfield. A hidden passageway between the Piazza and the Royal Gardens on the bank of the Grand Canal is also part of the project.
When completed in 2020, the building will open to the public for the first time in 500 years, housing too The Human Safety Net, an initiative by Generali to extend aid to some of the most vulnerable communities around the world.
This multi-million-euro undertaking is just one of the recent string of restoration projects that have taken place across Italy, led primarily by Italian fashion houses such as Tod’s, Fendi and Bulgari. The end-result: sparkling clean cultural landmarks to create many an Instagram moment.
Earlier last year, in April, Gucci announced it would fund the €2 million restoration of the popular Boboli Gardens in Florence, organised by the Uffizi Gallery in the Tuscan city. Promising to reinstate its status as the Versailles of Italy, Uffizi Director Eike Schmidt said they would “make the garden’s greenery thrive again”.
Private enterprises are answering the call of the cash-strapped government to help save the heritage sites that often get vandalised and have fallen into disrepair.
In 2015 and 2016, a range of monuments in Rome unveiled cleaned-up facades. Following a 17-month project, the revitalised Trevi Fountain was reopened in November 2015. Fashion house Fendi was pivotal in restoring the close-to 300-year-old monument at a cost of more than €2 million.
In July 2016, the first phase of the Colosseum’s restoration was completed by shoewear group Tod’s. Highlights included restoring some 10,150 sqm of travertine surface on the northern and southern façades. Today, the top two levels of the Colosseum are accessible by visitors, providing them a previously unattainable bird’s eye view of the amphitheatre.
Three months later, renovations at the Spanish Steps were completed to the tune of €1.5 million. Funded by Bulgari, which has a store at the base of the Steps, the project lasted a year and opened to great fanfare that culminated in a fireworks show.
Generali, with its non-fashion origins, seems the odd one out in this company, but the common thread is that these are all private enterprises attempting to save the great cultural landmarks of their home country of Italy.
Others include food chain Eataly, which will restore Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper, and telco TIM, which will partially fund the restoration of the previously derelict and neglected tomb of the first emperor of Rome, Augustus. The remains of his successors Vespasian, Nero and Tiberius are also kept in the Mausoleum.
These private enterprises are answering the call of the cash-strapped government to help save the heritage sites that often get vandalised and have fallen into disrepair – no surprise considering its national culture budget has seen steady cuts over the past 15 years up to 2015. It was only in 2016 that it went up by 27 per cent from the previous year to €2 billion.
“Italy is a country of culture and so I challenge businessmen. What are you waiting for?” former prime minister Matteo Renzi once told journalists, when asked about the future of Pompeii, another ancient site that is badly in need of restoration support.
For the private sector, extending a helping hand to Italy’s national treasures is both a CSR endeavour and their unique way of saying thank-you to a country which has given them so much.
“Fendi has a deep bond with Rome, the city our House was founded 90 years ago and that has always inspired us. The funding of these restoration projects was very important not just as an act of philanthropy, but as a way to thank the eternal city [sic] for all that we have been given in these years,” said Pietro Beccari, CEO of Fendi.
“By opening the Procuratie Vecchie to the public for the first time in nearly five centuries, we are creating new and vibrant spaces where people can meet to discuss some of today’s most pressing social and global issues.”
Philippe Donnet, CEO of Generali Group
Back in Venice, CEO of Generali Group Philippe Donnet talks about how restoring the Procuratie Vecchie is their way of giving back to the local community and visitors to the city.
“The beauty of Venice is a source of inspiration for the world, and Generali is very proud to enrich the city’s heritage by restoring the area of Piazza San Marco. By opening the Procuratie Vecchie to the public for the first time in nearly five centuries, we are creating new and vibrant spaces where people can meet to discuss some of today’s most pressing social and global issues.”