Ads take over St Mark's Square

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The Independent Online

For the first time in history, some of the most famous sites in Venice are swathed in huge advertisements. On the Piazzetta of San Marco, the villain of the new James Bond film looms from a huge advertisement for Swatch. The facade of the Doge's Palace is obscured by mammoth ads for Lancia cars.

The new arrivals have come on the back of a recent law that permits the scaffolding of public buildings under restoration to be covered with advertisements as long as the local authority considers that they do not "detract from the appearance, decorum or public enjoyment of the building".

According to Anna Somers Cocks, of the Venice in Peril Fund, the agencies letting out these sites are set to make huge sums. "In the past there was never any advertising in Venice, except for election posters or small advertisements for concerts. But now they have realised that Venice is a fantastic place to rent out space.

"A few years ago Piaget sponsored the restoration of the clocktower in Piazza San Marco, and they put witty images of famous towers on the scaffolding along with discreet advertisements for Piaget. This was reasonable because they had paid for the restoration. Now the people putting up the ads are not the people putting up the money for the restorations. They are not kindly, sweet benefactors, it's a straightforward commercial operation."

An investigation by The Art Newspaper this week reveals that the main firm handling the Venice sites is Plakativ Media, which is paying €3.5m (£3m) to restore the Correr Museum end of the piazza and in return gets a 2,500 sq ft advertising space – "half the size of an Olympic swimming pool" – on the scaffolding. The standard rent for the site is €50,000 per month, rising to €75,000 in February, when the Carnevale is on. That rises to €158,000 per month for a minimum of 12 months when the advertising space goes digital.

Renata Codello, the Venice superintendent whose permission is required for each ad, said she had turned down "masses of proposals, including one for the entire Italian football team dressed only in shorts". She argued that she has "no choice" but to accept ads. "Funding from the Culture Ministry has been cut by more than 25 per cent, so I can expect no help from the government."

But Ms Somers Cocks said: "It would be much better to charge tourists for entering Venice and keep it intact rather than make it hideous for everybody."

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