Rome unveiled the most drastic facelift for the Trevi Fountain in its 252-year history on Monday, the latest in a series of privately-funded restorations to Italy's prized landmarks.
The stone rendering of Tritons guiding the shell chariot of water god Oceanus will be cleaned and new pumps, artistic lighting and barriers to deter pigeons will be installed in the 2.2 million euro ($3 million) project over the next 16 months.
Water has stopped flowing at the fountain site, which marks the end of an aqueduct said to have carried "Virgin Water" to thirsty ancient Romans, to allow the work sponsored by Italian fashion house Fendi.
Standing in the piazza named after the three roads ("tre vie") that once met there, Fendi chief executive Pietro Beccari said the group known for its luxurious furs and "Baguette" bags was spurred to fund the project partly by its links with Rome.
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"We can give back to the city something of what it has given us over the years in terms of inspiration, beauty, art and culture ... above all at a time when Italy needs positive gestures and people to do things and talk less," Beccari said.
The last major restoration was about 25 years ago, but new techniques developed since then make it the most thorough in the fountain's history. A transparent barrier has been set up around the perimeter and a footbridge standing over the basin where screen siren Anita Ekberg frolicked in the 1960 film La Dolce Vita allows visitors to see the work and get closer to the structure.
Despite these efforts, visitors groaned when they arrived at the piazza on Monday to see that the facade, which covers one side of Rome's Palazzo Poli, was covered in scaffolding.
But some conceded the work was necessary.
"It has to be done, so you can't get upset over it," said Bobby Norby, a 43 year-old retired military serviceman from California. "How many structures in the world have been around this long?"
PRIVATE SECTOR STEPS IN
Across Italy, a dearth of public funds to restore historical sites that are catnip for tourists has prompted the country's entrepreneurs to step in to refresh and sometimes save them from likely collapse.
Luxury shoemaker Tod's is paying to restore the Colosseum and jeweller Bulgari the Spanish Steps. Further north in Venice, Diesel jeans founder Renzo Rosso is paying to spruce up the Rialto bridge in return for using it as advertising space.
Defence and technology group Finmeccanica has pledged staff and technology worth up to 2 million euros to a project to prop up the crumbling town of Pompeii, which was covered in volcanic ash in 79 AD.
Speaking at the project unveiling on Monday night, Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said looking after the city's cultural heritage was a responsibility to be shared.
"What we have here in Rome does not belong only to the Romans but to everyone who comes every day to our amazing city."
Coins thrown into the fountain each year by tourists - testing the superstition that doing so guarantees the thrower will return to Rome - total about a million euros.
($1 = 0.7331 Euros)