Shoe tycoon helps to foot the bill to save Pompeii with €25m gift

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The Independent Online

An Italian shoe magnate is preparing to step in and help to save the ancient site of Pompeii from disintegration, following last year's headline-grabbing collapses in key buildings.

Diego Della Valle, the owner of the luxury shoe brand Tod's, has said he "will give a helping hand" to rescue the ancient Roman city and World Heritage Site. In December, it emerged that Mr Della Valle had put his hand in his pocket and produced €25m (£21m) to help to save the Colosseum in Rome.

"The businessmen and people of Naples have to grab the opportunity to involve themselves in the restoration of Pompeii. If it's needed, I'm ready to lend a hand," he was reported as saying in Il Giornale dell'Arte magazine. A spokeswoman for Tod's told The Independent that Mr Della Valle was indeed ready help.

Nine people have been placed under investigation by the Italian authorities in connection with damage to the ruins last November. The House of the Gladiators and part of the House of the Moralist fell in quick succession at the 2,000-year-old World Heritage Site, prompting outcry.

Pompeii's former superintendent Pietro Giovanni Guzzo and excavations director Antonio Varone are among those being investigated in connection with the collapses, it has emerged.

The decaying state of Italy's incomparable cultural heritage also has political ramifications. Opposition politicians have blamed Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's controversial Culture minister, Sandro Bondi, for the continuing disintegration of famous monuments amid cuts in culture spending.

It is not just Pompeii and the Colosseum in peril, experts warn. Last spring, a large part of the underground complex of Nero's fabled Golden Palace in the capital collapsed. Fears are also mounting for the future of Venice as it continues to sink slowly into the lagoon upon which it was built.

Critics say the lack of state financial support is perverse given that Italy earns so much from foreign tourists. France, which has rather less to preserve and restore, spends 1 per cent of its gross domestic product on culture compared with just 0.2 per cent of GDP in Italy. Mr Bondi, however, says that better management rather than more resources is the key to saving sites such as Pompeii.

Italy's respected business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore said recently that the only solution for Pompeii was a private sponsor. "Its management should be taken away from a state that has shown itself incapable of protecting it," it declared.