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Spanish Steps | © Flickr/alessandrocapotondi
Spanish Steps | © Flickr/alessandrocapotondi
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The Spanish Steps Reopen, With Some Lingering Concerns

Picture of Livia Hengel
Updated: 19 September 2016
The Spanish Steps are set to re-open this upcoming Wednesday, September 21st 2016, after a year-long conservation project funded by luxury jewelry house Bulgari. This €1.5 million refurbishment is the latest in a line of conservation projects being funded by Italian luxury houses in Rome, including the Fendi restoration of the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum restoration by Tod’s. Though many are eagerly anticipating the re-opening of the famous steps, which have been sealed off to pedestrian traffic since October 2015, there is some debate as to whether they should remain an open and unguarded 24 hour attraction (like in the past) or whether they should be monitored and sealed off at night.

A Brief History

The Spanish Steps, or Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, are one of Rome’s most famous landmarks. The monumental Baroque staircase was built between 1723-25 to link the imposing Trinità dei Monti church, under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France, with Piazza di Spagna, property of the Bourbon Spanish Embassy. French diplomat Étienne Gueffier funded the 135 steps in his will and the urban project was carried out by architect Francesco de Sanctis. The Spanish Steps were popularized by the 1953 film Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

Screenshot from Roman Holiday
Screenshot from Roman Holiday | © WikiCommons

Bulgari Steps In

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has been encouraging wealthy donors to invest in the country’s heritage which is expensive to maintain, particularly for a country such as Italy with its long history and multitude of noteworthy sights. So when Bulgari announced it would work to re-level and clean the steps in order to restore the beloved monument to its original splendor, it was welcome news to some, while skeptics worried about the implications of corporate money going towards public goods. Indeed, private funding raises questions about who has control or final say on the destiny of the institutions it is supporting: how much control does, or should, the investor have over its recipient, mainly the cultural heritage of Italy? This uneasy balance is particularly acute for a country that has long struggled with corruption and nepotism and that is trying to maintain transparency in recent years.

Spanish Steps
Spanish Steps | ©Flickr/axmai

Open vs Closed

This edginess played itself out again when Paolo Bulgari, the billionaire chairman of Bulgari who is funding the project, suggested erecting a barrier to prevent pedestrian traffic from traversing the stairs in the evenings. ‘The steps were coated with everything from coffee, wine and chewing gum.. if we don’t set strict rules, the steps will go back to being used as a camping site for barbarians,’ he told Italian newspaper La Repubblica earlier this month. Though his word choice may not have been diplomatic, the steps had last been cleaned in 1995, revealing just how much maintenance is required to keep up with cultural heritage. The government has responded that it would be unthinkable to erect a barrier to entry, though there will be more surveillance to monitor the steps at night.

Setting aside these lingering sentiments, the Spanish Steps will officially be inaugurated, to much fanfare, on September 21st with an evening concert performed by the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and directed by Antonio Pappano.

Spanish Steps
Spanish Steps | © Flickr/alessandrocapotondi