The 16th-century Fountain of Moses, a testament to the power of Pope Sixtus V, sparkled after a restoration was finished in 1988 in Rome. But now the likeness of the biblical hero that adorns the fountain is turning black, the victim of a constant barrage of traffic exhaust and other pollutants.
In Florence, conservationists are considering moving Giambologna’s “A Rape of the Sabine Women”indoors. The statue adorns the majestic Piazza della Signoria but just five years after the restoration, it is already beginning to show signs of wear.
Many of Italy’s symbols of great empires and the works of Renaissance masters are deteriorating because of pollution. Environmental groups believe the government doesn’t spend enough money on prevention, only intervening after the damage has already been done. Furthermore they argue that the public is unaware that environmental pollution not only puts mankind at risk but is also harmful to architectural monuments. Although the problem is global, its impact is being felt acutely in Italy, which boasts more than 57,000 works of historic and cultural significance, and 37 cities and sites honoured as world heritage by the UN cultural organization UNESCO.
“The situation is truly dramatic,” said Federica Sacco, director of the Save the Art initiative for Legambiente, Italy’s largest environmental organization. “Italy’s monuments are under attack, and people don’t realize that pollution is destroying them.”