Rome is expecting record visitor numbers this year as the restoration of major landmarks coincides with the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The official start of the Holy Year is on the first Sunday after Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, when the Holy Doors of the four major basilicas of Rome are opened. Saint Peter’s is the first, followed by St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major. These doors are only opened by the Jubilee Year, which this year has the theme of mercy and is a call for believers to renew their relationship with God.
The last Jubilee year in 2000 saw 25 million visitors in Rome but this year’s, which ends in November, may well attract more. As many as 200,000 spectators normally pack St Peter’s Square to hear the Pope’s Easter message but the Vatican is big enough to absorb any increase in numbers this year.
Many of Rome’s major sights have coincidently undergoing a makeover, with several key ones due to be unveiled during the year. The 144 steps of the Spanish Steps – made famous by the 1953 film Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck – have been levelled and its ornate lamps are also being restored. The work, funded by luxury jeweller Bulgari, is due to finish this spring.
The Colosseum has been under scaffolding for so long that it seems hard to believe 2016 will also see it completely uncovered. Its travertine stone is being carefully cleaned with water and soft brushes, while preserving the signature yellow tint of the limestone, and a new wood/sand floor installed.
Italy has the most Unesco World Heritage sites of any country, but the burden of caring for them is an expensive one. The private sector is behind much of the work taking place in Rome after the city authorities appealed for help. Fashion house Fendi financed the $2.4 million work at the Trevi Fountain which was unveiled at the end of last year, and luxury shoemaker Tod’s is sponsoring the work at the Colosseum.