ROME — Venice's mayor on Monday mocked critics of giant billboards that cover many of the city's historic monuments undergoing repair, following an appeal by leading international museum directors and architects.
Giorgio Orsoni, speaking in a telephone interview with AFP, advised disgruntled tourists to go home and look at photographs of famous sights such as the Bridge of Sighs or St. Mark's Square from the comfort of their own sofa.
"If people want to see the building they should go home and look at a picture of it in a book," Orsoni said.
Addressing his critics, Orsoni quoted a Venetian saying that translates as: "Before you speak, be quiet."
Growing anger over the huge, floodlit advertisements for Coca-Cola, Rolex or Bulgari that obscure palaces up and down the Grand Canal drove art world figures to publish an appeal to Venice's mayor in The Art Newspaper on Sunday.
"We ask you to imagine the disappointment that the 17.5 million visitors to Venice this year will feel," read the plea.
"They come to this iconic city with an image of it in their mind's eye and instead they see its famous views grotesquely defaced," it said.
Among the sights covered this year are the Doge's palace in St. Mark's Square, the Santa Maria della Salute basilica and the Bridge of Sighs.
Signatories of the appeal included award-winning British architect Norman Foster, as well as the directors of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, London's British Museum and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
But Orsoni said the advertisements were necessary as they were helping to fund the renovation of buildings badly in need of repair.
"The only way to get around the problem would be to have a magic wand and repair all the buildings in Venice without having to cover them up," he said.
"These days public money is tight. I would be very happy to accept donations... if they're willing to give them," he added.
Giandomenico Romanelli, director of the Doge's palace gallery in Venice's main square, told AFP that some of the city's monuments were in such a poor state of repair that falling pieces of mortar posed a risk to public safety.
He said the aim was to find a balance between bringing in funds and keeping the numbers and size of the brightly coloured billboards at a level that residents and tourists will tolerate.
"Of course we can't simply grant advertisers' wishes in return for money," he said, "I think we have to negotiate."
Restoration costs for the palace of the Doge -- the traditional seat of government in Venice when it was its own state -- have been estimated at around 2.8 million euros (3.8 million dollars).
The revenue from billboard advertising on the palace is around 40,000 euros a month for three years, The Art Newspaper reported.
But Romanelli said the advertising companies had the best end of the deal.
"The adverts don't bring in enough money. At the moment, the visual impact far outweighs the amount they raise," he said.
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