It’s 7.30am in Rome and the piazza in front of the Colosseum is deserted, apart from a couple of vendors offering miniature copies of the iconic amphitheatre and tiny gladiators for the mantelpiece back home. In an hour, hordes of tourists will start pouring into the ticket booths, but few will catch a glimpse of a small army of engineers and technicians working behind the layers of steel scaffolding wrapped around a third of the 2000-year-old monument’s exterior.
It’s the most ambitious renovation the Colosseum has ever had — the first stage of a €25 million ($37m) project sponsored entirely by Diego Della Valle, the billionaire businessman who created the Tod’s luxury leather goods empire. “The truth is, I did not choose the Colosseum restoration voluntarily; it all happened by chance,” the 60-year-old entrepreneur says. “When I heard they were looking for a sponsor, I knew I couldn’t hold back. I think it’s an honour, indeed a duty, to give a share of my fortune back to the country.”