I'M USUALLY quite forgiving of people who are patriotic or nationalistic.
It amuses me, but I know that I am probably just as guilty, especially in those more trying moments of life in a foreign country. We take comfort in thinking that we are part of a greater group of achievers and achievements.
There is of course an ugly side to patriotism. Its the blind rabbidism that is based on half truths, assumptions and plain rubbish and I unfortunately encounter it here on a regular basis.
An example here in Italy is of how Italians perceive their country. True, recent decades haven't been very kind to Italy. They have been caught up in a vicious cycle of politics, stagnation and economic woes and now, with a technocratic government in place are paying the price by means of an endless stream of new taxes and an annhilation of worker's rights in an attempt to modernise the economy.
So, when Italians tell me that Italy is home to more than 70% (90% on occassion) of the world's patromonio, that is, cultural heritage, I bite my tongue and let them continue believing it. I mean, everybody is at them and on their case about everything that it seems really petty for me to correct them.
What they are referring to infact is the UNESCO World Heritage listing. But maths is probably not a strong point in this country. It is true that Italy has more sites on the respective lists than any other country, and that like any other person who dabbles in a bit of nationalism, they deserve to be proud of their heritage, but, its not the one horse race some Italians would have you believe.
Italy, by the latest count, has 44 sites listed for their cultural significance. That's six more than Spain (38) and eleven more than both Germany and France's total of 33.
Overall, on the combined list of natural and cultural sites, Italy comes in trumps again with 47, with Spain close behind with 43 and China with 41.
These are impressive numbers. There is an entirely other debate to be had about the UNESCO listings, but its important to also consider that there are approxiamately 725 sites around the world that have qualified for status. Italians who cling to this idea that their cultural heritage is the centre of the universe probably could do with a cup of tea and a few deep breaths before being made aware of this.
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On the weekend I made a return trip to Tivoli, which, these days, has almost become part of the conurbation of Rome. It's a relatively easy place to reach being just 30km or so away from Rome, and as such, is home to many of Rome's foreign workers given the proximity to the city and its lower cost of living in comparison to Rome's.
If you make it past the sulphuric quarries at the city's entry, you'll quickly realise that Tivoli is also home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Villa Adriana (pictured) and Villa d'Este. With 47 listings, Italy is the most represented country on the UNESCO listing, which should stand as a reminder that there are copius amounts of culturally significant sites to visit in Italy with or without UNESCO status. Culture is big business in Italy; the culture sector accounts for around 12% of the entire economy, but with Italy's stalled economy, there is never enough money to manage the upkeep of Italy's many monuments and cultural sites.
Increasingly, Italy is catching up with other nations and seeking corporate support in the management and upkeep of its heritage. Newsweek spelled out their own figures, pointing out that heritage sites are not just struggling to stay afloat, but that they are literally crumbling. In January 2011, Tods made headlines with their agreement to fund restoration works of Rome's Colosseum and Milan's La Scala theatre, and in recent days talk has been circulating that Diesel plan to fund the restoration of Venice's Rialto Bridge.
Which brings us to the case of Tivoli. Although the town and its villas are significant, and indeed, quite spectacular, increasingly dwindling visitor numbers attest to the competition in this country for the visitor's dollar. Tivoli's two villas, one located at the foot of the town, and the other, Villa D'este, in its centre, are operated seperately. A entry ticket during the summer forVilla d'Este is currently 11 euro, whilst a similar price is also asked at Villa Adriana. The latter, an outdoor site which is currently one of many throughout Italy which is not in full operation (areas are cordoned off due to their unsafety), has seen its ongoing requests for maintenance funding only being partially granted by the Ministry of Culture. A recent article suggested that Villa Adriana in particular, despite its grave needs for restoration works, is not considered a priority site, particularly in the face of an increasingly shrinking national culture budget. The question then, is it the responsibility of a site of international significance (as recognised by UNESCO) to find alternate forms of funding from the private sector. Or, could a joint ticket scheme between the villas improve patronage and boost their spending pots?
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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