di Riccardo D'Andrea
(By Denis Greenan). Catanzaro, July 15 - A bureaucratic tangle that has left Italy's famed Riace Bronzes in a state United Nations cultural organisation UNESCO branded "a disgrace" will be cleared up by the end of the year, Italian officials have vowed. Delayed museum restoration needed to display the pair of cherished ancient Greek sculptures is poised to begin and the unique statues will be on show early next year, say officials at their home in the southern Italian region of Calabria. A renovated museum housing the iconic warrior figures should be ready "in the first few months of 2014," officials in Reggio Calabria said. "The situation is finally unblocked and will be remedied" said the managing director of 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 hold-ups... inauguration and opening to the public is conceivable...in the first months of next year", Prosperetti said. Last week 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". Politicians have demanded that Italy's culture minister take fast action to protect the historically significant and priceless statues. The bronzes, two 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) demanded. 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. Their' trip across town to the council site was supposed to be a brief one. When they left the Archaeological Museum on December 22, 2009, Calabria's archaeological superintendent, Simonetta Bonomi, said it was "just for a six-month restoration". The move was the first time in 28 years that the priceless 2,500-year-old bronzes had left the Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria. The only previous occasion they were let out was in 1981, for a triumphant round-Italy tour, which sold out venues in Rome, Florence and Milan At the time of the move, Bonomi said "they will be looked over and restored to full glory hopefully by the end of June next year (2010)". Bonomi said they would not be "too disturbed" at the restoration workshop, since their clean-up performed by experts from Rome's National Restoration Institute would be "merely conservative in nature''. The statues are of two virile men, presumably warriors or gods, who possibly held lances and shields at one time. At around two metres, they are larger than life. The 'older' man, known as Riace B, wears a helmet, while the 'younger' Riace A has nothing covering his rippling hair. Both are naked. Although the statues are cast in bronze, they feature silver lashes and teeth, copper red lips and nipples, and eyes made of ivory, limestone and a glass and amber paste. Italy has the world's biggest trove of archeological treasures but the Riace Bronzes attracted particular attention. This was partly due to their exceptionally realistic rendering and partly to the general rarity of ancient bronze statues, which tended to be melted down and recycled. Stefano Mariottini, the scuba diver who first spotted one of the statues some 300 meters off the coast and eight metres underwater, said the bronze was so realistic that he initially thought he'd found the remains of a corpse. A million people came to see them at various venues around Italy in 1981 and the pair were featured on a commemorative postage stamp that year. The statues pulled in an average 130,000 visitors a year during their time at the Reggio Calabria museum.