Conservation Italy

Ads of Sighs

The huge ads proliferating in Venice, now also lit up by night, are not bringing in huge money and stretch the application of the law to the point of illegality

Advertising on the Doge's Palace in Venice

Since 2008, more and more huge advertisements have appeared in Venice, on palaces up and down the Grand Canal and on the façades of St Mark’s Square, the Biblioteca Marciana, and the Doge’s Palace. Now they are also lit up at night to give the advertisers a bigger bang for their bucks. The price, however, is not high; it costs about €40,000 a month for three years to cover part of Doge’s Palace overlooking the lagoon and connecting with the Bridge of Sighs—less than two pages of advertising in a daily paper. And even with this money coming in, the restoration is still €600,000 short of the €2.8m needed to finish the job.

The city council and the superintendency of architecture for Venice, which has given permission for these ads, are adamant that this is the only way to finance the restoration of historic public buildings in the city as public funds have been very short since the special financing Venice used to get has been diverted to build the barriers between the Adriatic and the lagoon (due to be completed in 2014), and the restoration budget of the ministry of culture has been cut. Despite protests by amenity groups such as Fondo Ambiente Italiano and the Association of Private Committees for Venice, mayor Giorgio Orsoni and superintendent Renata Codello announced last month that they intended to carry on with this method of raising money. The ad spaces on the Biblioteca Marciana and in St Mark’s Square have been granted in return for E3.5m to Plakativ Media, a German company that rents out spaces to agencies and here the ads are already up yet some of the restoration has not even begun.

Is this ghastly defilement of the city’s appearance really necessary or even legal? Slightly over 10 years ago, the bank Credito Bergamasco gave more than E2m over seven years ago to restore the façades of the Doge’s Palace overlooking the water and the Piazzetta. On the scaffolding there was a picture of the building itself, and then of a famous painting by Tiepolo, with the bank’s logo discreetly in the corner, nothing like the Coke, Rolex or Bulgari ads now looming over this, the very heart of the city. The Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, which administers the Doge’s Palace, gets E1.8m a year from the energy company ENI and all they want in exchange is their logo on the labels in the museums and the right to hold cultural and promotional events in the buildings. The Musei Civici have also just signed an agreement with the Fondazione Prada, which will restore the 18th-century Palazzo Corner della Regina so that it can host agreed contemporary art exhibitions there, but with no other advertising benefits. It is possible, therefore, to find money in other ways.

Compare Venice with Florence. In October 2009, the Florentine superintendency allowed a chain of supermarkets, Esselunga—one of the partners in the restoration of the Corridoio Vasariano—to hang a mega-ad on the Ponte Vecchio, but the howl of protest from the Florentines, led by mayor Matteo Renzi, was so loud that it was removed after a few days. Esselunga begged everyone’s pardon and gave its money anyway, while the ministry of culture sent an inspector up from Rome to investigate.

Nothing like this has happened in Venice. And yet the convention of 1924 between the state and city council regarding the administration of the Doge’s Palace by the latter would in fact prohibit these ads. One of its clauses is about protecting the image of the building, “to be shown without objects that in any way might damage its beauty and majesty, mask its virtues, paintings and other characteristics of its history and art”. In addition, article 49 of the new law regarding the patrimony (Beni Culturali), which superintendent Codello invokes often to justify the ads, says: “It is forbidden to affix advertisements on buildings and in areas defined as ‘beni culturali’. The superintendent may, however, allow them if they do not damage the appearance, decorum and public enjoyment of the said building or area.” The current row over these huge advertisements in Venice is precisely over the damage they are doing to enjoyment of these buildings and of the city itself.

An appeal launched by Venice in Peril to Sandro Bondi, Italian Minister of Culture, and Giorgio Orsoni, mayor of Venice

The Venice in Peril Fund, the British Committee for the Preservation of Venice • Norman Foster • Mark Jones, director, Victoria and Albert Museum • Glenn Lowry, director, Museum of Modern Art, New York • Neil MacGregor, director, British Museum • Lars Nittve, director, Moderna Museet, Stockholm • Mikhail Piotrovsky, director, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg • Malcolm Rogers, director, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston • Martin Roth, director general, Dresden State Museums

"We appeal to the Italian government to change the legislation that permits huge advertisements on the scaffolding of public buildings. Only ten years ago, Venice was a city without large advertisements. Today, they are proliferating. They hit you in the eye and ruin your experience of one of the most beautiful creations of humankind. Their scale dwarfs the fine detail and proportions of the buildings, and now that they are also illuminated, you cannot escape them even by night, when they are the hardest, brightest lights in town by far.

We ask you to imagine the disappointment that the 17.5m visitors to Venice this year will feel. 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.

To those who say that the money the advertisements bring is necessary to restore those buildings, we remind you that after the great flood of 1966, when Venice was in a much worse state and Italy a much less rich country, no one contemplated using this method to raise funds.

Other ways of financing restoration must be found, otherwise Venice is doomed to be covered in advertisements for the rest of its life because its buildings will always be undergoing work due to their great age and the environmental fragility of the city.

Finally, we remind you that Venice is a Unesco World Heritage Site and that a preceding government of Italy undertook to protect its essential nature in perpetuity when it accepted this nomination."

Ads on St Mark's Square and the Santa Maria della Salute
More from The Art Newspaper


26 Apr 11
15:15 CET


What an appropriate name for the bridge - and exactly how I feel after reading this story.

13 Mar 11
16:44 CET


This is revolting. The same thing is happening in Ghana where even coconut trees are being criminally defaced with colors and logos of companies. This must stop i.

1 Mar 11
23:32 CET


This is disgusting. First they're advertising all over our cities, then they work their way into our living rooms through our televisions, now they're hiding monuments. Wouldn't be surprised if they place advertisements next to the Mona Lisa.

9 Nov 10
22:11 CET


Readers of this article are quickly offering judgments without solutions. Venice costs a fortune to maintain, and fortunately most everyone seems to agree this must happen. The issue is therefore how to raise the necessary funds in order to productively preserve buildings, and a sense of their presence while under scaffolding. Scaffolding over cultural icons has been a reality generations of tourists have dealt with. A more elegant blend of the patron's logo and the facsimile of the facade under restoration should be sought. However, I am concerned that in expressing condemnation for this solution, no one is commenting on what else detracts - perhaps in an even more egregious manner - from the beauty of Venice: monstrous cruise ships on the Grand Canal, hundred's of street vendors blocking tourist passage with offensive trinkets, a love of pigeons that borders on the perverse, too many tourists, etc. I find these more offensive than a questionable blend of contemporary and classical.

18 Oct 10
18:43 CET


Obviously it must be corruption. A whole bunch of idiots with no brains is the only capable source of such advertising. I think we should also boycott the advertisers. If some one lets you commit a crime and you commit it you are guilty not only who let you do it. I will not buy from anyone that advertises over the most beautiful architecture, making it look as crappy as its products.So no Guess, No Bulgari, Nor will I go back to Venice until this corruption issue is solved. Once we all do the same they will probably hang them all.

14 Oct 10
0:26 CET


We spent 2 weeks in Venice in September 2010. I must admit I was shocked by the Guess and Bvlgari awnings in St Mark's Square. The Coke ad must have just gone up, along with the lighting as this was not present in Sept.However, I would not let this crass advertising stop tourists from taking in the splendour of Venice. We had a marvellous time staying in an apartment and living as the Venetians. Viva Venezia !!

12 Oct 10
23:59 CET


My husband and I were heartbroken to see these ads defacing the beauty of Venice when we visited. We spoke about how sad it was to others upon our return. We will not reccommend Venice as a destination unless Italy changes this increasingly invasive problem. This, too, is heartbreaking as Venice should be seen and loved by all.

8 Oct 10
4:9 CET


Outrageous - this turn of events - the Doges palace looks monstrous. I will not buy any Coke, Tournai or Bulgari product until these ads are only a memory of a bad idea. Why on earth would these companies think this type of ad is a good idea and will generate interest n their products? Put their ads on the vaparetto busses instead! Sadly the Venetians barely live there anymore so who would protest?? So few local owners in the shops - mostly masks and other tourist items made in China - the shops staffed by foreign labor. Venice - a place like no other on this globe - is like every other place on this globe - spare us this one cultural experience. The city should protest, the government should put a stop to it.

8 Oct 10
4:9 CET


It is a shame that BIG companies like those or others that are following don't have respect to anything at list have a better taste in the publicity and make them more a'doc to the City Architecture and Art, In my opinion the Venetians should have an open forum where the can vote and decide where those terrible adds should be post, or never have them, Did they ask to the Venetians?? this City is Beautiful is a Heritage to the World the UNESCO should say something, this has to be stop later we will see the gondolas like yellow cabs from New York and singing american rock with their clothes full of publicity it is a shame!!! I am sad and angry, stop this shame to the humanity!! Respect the city!! "If the walls could talk "

8 Oct 10
4:9 CET


Having been to Venice several times in the past 10 years, I was shocked last fall to visit for the Biennale (my first time) and find it covered with huge billboards, bigger and more intrusive than those China created for its Olympics campaign. The Bridge of Sighs is literally surrounded by Geox billboards. This outrage is not about damage to the buildings (the scaffolding comment above).With this treatment, imagining the experience of the prisoners on their way to their deaths, that makes this an iconic structure, is lost. The rest of the "sellout" is equally shocking & ruins the majesty that is St. Mark's Sq. Venice could specify parameters to make any such marketing tasteful and in support of Venice, not in support of product placement. So sad!

7 Oct 10
20:59 CET


This summer we went on a day trip to Venice. My wife had longed to visit it. I also wanted to see the original Doge’s Palace – because industrial philanthropists of Victorian Glasgow had built a replica edifice in Glasgow that stands to this day. Imagine our horror, approaching Venice in much anticipation over the lagoon to find a quarter or so of the Doge’s draped from pavement to roof-top and around the gable, in hoardings advertising ‘Italy Toy Watches’! The example of the vandalism to the Rialto Bridge shown here says more. Corporate stupidity, arrogance, vandalism and despoliation come to mind. Some corporate suites need to join one of the visiting tourist parties and learn of the deeply negative publicity generated for their companies by these acts of cultural philistinism. To the mayor of Venice - we and our friends won’t be back to this kind of Venice. To others - to see the Doge’s in some of its replicated but untarnished glory – come to Glasgow!

5 Oct 10
15:6 CET


ive just tweeted about this, (a real shame as it is),

5 Oct 10
15:6 CET


I think this is an awsome idea. Perhaps all building can be covered by billboards and how about the houses also. Another good idea would be to put ads on boats and cars and on the roads and sidewalks. This could be the start of a new era one where all of Venice

5 Oct 10
2:28 CET


Since it is on the scaffolding I really don't see the problem.

4 Oct 10
21:35 CET


What a terrible choice. Either drown or be plastered over with propaganda from Coca Cola. Sad.

4 Oct 10
17:50 CET


I think that companies as Coca-Cola, Bulgari and other major investors should think that their own image could be damaged if they hide some masterpieces of world's architecture with their huge advertisements. They invest their money in a good cause, the restoration of famous buildings, but they should find a better way to balance the great visibility of their brand with the respect for some of the best creations of humankind.

3 Oct 10
5:43 CET


Abominations such as these ghastly advertisements are yet another indication that Venice is no longer a real city of any era. Obviously the Venetians themselves don't care either, for if they did they would be forming protective barriers around their building, monuments, and calli--or at least voting the grasping functionaries out of office.

Submit a comment

All comments are moderated. If you would like your comment to be approved, please use your real name, not a pseudonym. We ask for your email address in case we wish to contact you - it will not be made public and we do not use it for any other purpose.


Want to write a longer comment to this article? Email


Share this