The Colosseum has emerged more imposing than ever after its most extensive restoration, a multimillion-euro cleaning to remove a dreary, undignified patina of soot and grime from the ancient arena, which has been assailed for decades by pollution in traffic-clogged Rome.

Footing the bill is shoe-and-luxury goods maker Tod's. In an act of modern-day cultural patronage, company founder Diego Della Valle responded to a government call to the private sector to help Italy's chronically anemic coffers to care for its immense art and archaeological treasures.

The first stage of the restoration — gently removing pollution's ravages on the exterior of the monument, which dates from the 1st century, with water misters and brushes wielded by hand — was officially unveiled on Friday. The monument stayed open to tourists during the nearly 3-year-long restoration of the outside, with scaffolding covering only one section at a time.

The exterior cleaning cost some 6.5 million euros ($7.2 million). Tod's is paying 25 million euros for the entire project, whose next steps include constructing a visitors' center with a cafeteria and shoring up the bottom, where wild beasts and scenery were kept for spectacles for the ancient Roman masses.

Architect Gisella Capponi, who directed the restoration, says the cleaning allows the Colosseum's creamy hues of travertine stone to be appreciated again. "The coloration highlights the monument" while the dirt and crime "gave an image of being more a ruin than it really is," she said.

Indeed, the stone had been so blackened that the Colosseum almost seemed to fade into the background for Romans who passed it daily on their commutes.

But now "the effect is one of surprise," Colosseum director Rossella Rea told The Associated Press.

Besides Della Valle's generosity, the Colosseum benefited from a city ordinance forbidding private cars on the nearby boulevard, which flanks Roman and Imperial Forums. Taxis and buses, but not private cars, are allowed on weekdays. On weekends, only pedestrians and cyclists can use the boulevards.

Shopkeepers and other businesses in the area have complained bitterly about the traffic ban but Rea is unrepentant about the need to protect the arena, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is considered Italy's most famous icon.

"If the heavy traffic, which did the damage, returns, all you'll need is three, four years" to coat the Colosseum again in soot," she said.


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