The last time I visited Rome — fifteen years ago — I was disappointed because I wasn’t able to visit the legendary Pantheon, the home to Roman gods: it was under restoration. Fortunately, this time the restoration had been completed and I was able to spend a few minutes wandering under its expansive domed ceiling. But other monuments were badly in need of repair, and some indeed were under restoration. It’s one thing to visit a much-anticipated monument and find it covered in scaffolding — a disappointing but necessary eyesore. It’s quite another to be confronted with something like this:
The church at the top of the famed Spanish Steps — the much lesser-known Trinitï¿½ dei Monti — was emblazoned with an ad for BMW, under the guise of “supporting” the restoration of the church. Even more surprising was this ad located smack in the middle of Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City:
What better way to promote the national lottery than to land an ad inside the most coveted tourist destination in Rome, in the name of “supporting” its preservation?
Interestingly, this practice isn’t exactly a new one: take a look at this image from the Roman forum:
The inscription reads: “Senatus populus que Romanus incendio consumptum restituit.” It’s been twenty years since my high school latin class, so I assumed this structure had something to do with the Roman Senate. It turns out it does, but not in the way I suspected. Roughly translated, the inscription basically says “this restoration brought to you by the Roman senate.” Of course, the inscription gives us a fascinating insight into the workings of Roman politics: temple restorations were presumably seen as a way to build support for the Roman political system.
When the tourists of the future look back at today’s society, perhaps the very public advertisements at the Vatican and the Spanish Steps will give them some insight into our own priorities.