Luxury jeweler shells out to restore Rome's Spanish Steps

ROME (Reuters) - Restoration work started on Wednesday at Rome’s Spanish Steps, making the scene of one of cinema’s most famous ice cream breaks the latest Italian landmark to undergo privately-funded repairs.

The travertine and marble staircase that rises from Piazza di Spagna to the Trinita dei Monti church in Rome’s historic center will be cleaned and its surfaces repaired in a project due to be finished by late next spring.

Roman jeweler Bulgari has donated 1.5 million euros ($1.7 million) to restore the site that provided the setting for a meeting between an ice cream-eating Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in the 1953 film “Roman Holiday”.

The constant flow of selfie-snapping tourists has added to the deterioration of the Steps, which were last fully restored in 1995, Rome’s city government and Bulgari said in a statement.

Some of the steps are slipping away, the stone surfaces are pockmarked with dark stains, and some areas are cracked and damaged by invasive plants.

The whole staircase will be closed until Dec. 7, before being partially opened to allow access to the hordes of tourists expected for a Catholic Holy Year beginning in December.

Italian entrepreneurs have been stepping up to pay to restore historical sites and save some from likely collapse as a three-year recession strangled public funding for their upkeep.

Across town from the Piazza di Spagna, luxury shoemaker Tod’s is paying to restore the Colosseum, while the holding company of Diesel jeans founder Renzo Rosso paid to spruce up the Rialto bridge in Venice.

The Spanish Steps, known in Italian as the Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti, first needed repairs just two years after their completion in 1726 after being damaged by heavy rain.

Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Tom Heneghan