di Marcello Mento
Catanzaro, July 11 - Delayed and hampered museum restoration needed to display a pair of cherished ancient Greek sculptures - the Riace Bronzes - is poised to begin, officials in the southern Italian region of Calabria told journalists on Thursday. The renovated museum, complete with a display of its treasured statues, could reopen early next year - if all goes smoothly from here, officials cautioned. "The situation is finally unblocked," said managing director for Calabria's department of cultural heritage, Francesco Prosperetti. "The Region of Calabria has given its fundamental contribution of five million euros, which will be used for building museum displays and completing installation work in the building, which should once more host the Riace Bronzes," Prosperetti said at a press conference held with the Calabrian Regional Cultural Councillor, Mario Caligiuri. "If, as we hope, there aren't snags or legal hang-ups... inauguration and opening to the public is conceivable...in the first months of next year". On Monday, an Italian official with UNESCO claimed the government had "abandoned" the world-famous ancient Greek warrior statues, and called their treatment "an absolute disgrace to Italy". Last week, politicians demanded that Italy's culture minister take fast action to protect the historically significant and priceless statues. The bronzes, some of Italy's most-loved cultural icons, have been lying on their backs for more than three years in the home of the Calabrian regional government after being moved from a museum undergoing restoration work. However, the work at Reggio Calabria's National Archaeological Museum has become a victim of budget cuts and red tape, which means the statues remain homeless. "We call on the government to outline what steps it intends to take to safeguard the Riace Bronzes and complete the museum restoration," Rosy Bindi and Demetrio Battaglia, politicians with the Democratic Party (PD) said last Friday. Museum renovations began in November 2009 and since then the valuable bronzes have been in storage, away from paying visitors and students. Calabria takes the Bronzes so seriously that it has repeatedly refused permission for copies of the statues to be made and rejected pleas for Italian promotional events worldwide and for the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa. In a citywide vote in 2003, the people of Reggio Calabria came out overwhelmingly against the "cloning" of the statues, which have been the Calabrian capital's biggest tourist draw since they were discovered. The bronzes were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holiday-maker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast and turned out to be one of Italy's most important archaeological finds in the last 100 years. The statues are of two virile men, presumably warriors or gods, who possibly held lances and shields at one time.