Spanish Steps, with facelift courtesy of Bulgari, reopen to public in Rome

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Rome's iconic Spanish Steps officially reopened to the public Thursday after a cleaning and repair job financed by luxury jeweler Bulgari, the latest in a series of privately-funded restorations of Italy's cultural treasures.

The reopening had been beset by controversy over Bulgari's insistence that the city better protect the newly pristine monument from drunks, tourists and others by fencing off the staircase at night. But Mayor Virginia Raggi said Thursday she didn't think a fence was needed.

"It's fundamental to let people use cultural heritage sites," she said, adding that visitors and Romans alike must be educated to use them responsibly.

Raggi said the city would make sure the steps aren't abused.

Bulgari's flagship store is on the glitzy street that leads to the Piazza di Spagna. In proposing the fence, the company cited damage to the steps over the years and, more recently, the piazza's fountain by visiting soccer hooligans.

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The restoration is one of several that Italian authorities have allowed private sponsors to fund amid government budget shortfalls and the unending need to care for Italy's crumbling monuments and artworks. Shoemaker Tod's footed the 25 million euro bill for the Colosseum restoration, and Italy has begun offering generous tax breaks for donations to help public museums and monuments.

But Bulgari's insistence that the Spanish Steps now be better cared for was evidence of a certain sense of entitlement that these private sponsors are able to exert.

Over the summer, for example, fashion house Fendi, which restored the Trevi Fountain, was able to parlay its generosity into a first-ever fashion show featuring models essentially walking over the Trevi Fountain's water.

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