Venezian gondolas navigate under a cardboard Bridge of Sighs. Photo by Alessandro Tomasutti, on August 23, 2010.

Over the past few years, the city of Venice has set up multiple partnerships with commercial groups such as Coca-Cola to fund the restoration of its heritage, in exchange for enormous advertising billboards on the city's historic buildings. The result is defacing the "City of Bridges".

In February 2009, Coca-Cola initially signed a contract with the former mayor of Venice, authorising the company to install soft drink vending machines in certain areas of the city, but prohibiting advertising in the main tourist sites.

These restrictions were lifted about a fortnight ago. Coca-Cola has since placed giant billboards in the famous Saint Mark’s square. The company has joined other brands which, in exchange for a financial contribution towards restoring the local heritage, are given advertising space on the city monuments such as the Doge's Palace.

This change in town planning policy comes just a few months after the arrival of the new lord mayor, Giorgio Orsoni. The trend seems to be spreading throughout the whole country. For example, the government has called for sponsors to fund the renovation of the Coliseum in Rome. For the sum of 25 million euros, the selected companies will be allowed to use the façade of the biggest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire for their advertising campaign.

"The residents of Venice are not asking for the removal of the Coca-Cola billboards, they just want something more discreet"

Alessandro lives in Venice. He alerted us to this story.

This is not the first time that adverts have been placed on the facades of historic monuments. Sometimes residents complain, as was the case last year when a poster showing a half-naked woman was installed on a church.

What’s new this year is that the Coca-Cola billboards on the Doge’s Palace are much bigger. They even hide part of the Bridge of Sighs. The residents of Venice were quick to complain about their size, and the subject was taken up by the Italian press.

Several Italian associations including an NGO, Fondo ambiente italiano [Fund for Italian Environment], also criticised these mega-billboards, regretting that the restoration of Venice’s most prestigious monuments require their – albeit temporary – disfiguration.


Photo by Alessandro Tomasutti, on August 23, 2010.

Photo by Alessandro Tomasutti, on August 23, 2010. 

These billboards are not even going to make the city rich. According to the newspaper "La Nuova Venezia" Coca-Cola is only paying 40,000 euros per month to appear on the Doge’s Palace, one of the world’s most admired palaces. In comparison to the two million spent by the Italian energy company ENI to have their logo appear on promotional items on sale at the Civic Museum, this is an amazingly good deal for Coca-Cola. But for the city, it could have a negative effect on tourism.

The residents of Venice are not asking for the removal of the Coca-Cola its billboards, they just want something more discreet. They know the city needs a lot of money to restore the numerous canals, churches and other public buildings, as public funding is insufficient or badly managed. Without money from the private sector, Venice is destined to disappear.

But there need to be limits for public-private partnerships. Ads can be displayed on buildings, but there need to be rules about size, duration and locality. We can’t just hang these signs up randomly, with no respect for our heritage.

We also need to be wary of the huge temptation for advertisers to encourage the renovation of certain buildings just so that they can place their advertisements on them."


The Coca-Cola Slogan"Open Happiness" has left many Venezians, who are clamouring for the ads to be removed, unconvinced. Photo by Alessandro Tomasutti, on August 23, 2010. 

Photo by Alessandro Tomasutti, on August 23, 2010.

More advertising billboards on Saint Marc's place. Photo by Alessandro Tomasutti, on August 23, 2010.