Riace Bronzes to return home later this year
Restored statues to go back to Reggio Calabria museum14 August, 15:48
For almost three years the 2,500-year-old ancient Greek statues representing warriors have been in the Calabrian regional government's headquarters, undergoing a long-awaited restoration. A host of chemical, laser and electromagnetic tests designed to help experts better understand where the statues came from, and who created them, were also carried out.
So now, it's almost time for them to return to their permanent home.
According to the superintendent for archaeological and cultural heritage of Calabria, Simonetta Bonomi, restoration work should be completed near the end of the year and the two warriors "will be back home again" in time for Christmas.
The celebrated bronzes were found in August 1972 off the coast of Calabria and quickly captured worldwide attention. They were so highly prized that they are rarely allowed to travel from their home, despite repeated requests.
Even former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi was turned down twice after seeking to borrow the statues for Group of Eight summits.
During the current restoration work, the Riace Bronzes, last let out in 1981 for a triumphant round-Italy tour, have been kept inside a purpose-built area with a glass front allowing visitors to watch the delicate restoration work.
Meanwhile, the Reggio Calabria museum has been undergoing restorations itself while the bronzes have been away. Approximately six million euros have been earmarked for that project, and regional authorities have released the final funds need to complete the work before year end.
The Bronzes were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holidaymaker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast and turned out to be one of Italy's most important archaeological finds in the last 100 years.
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 in 1981 and the pair are even featured on a commemorative postage stamp.
The statues usually pull around 130,000 visitors annually to the Reggio Calabria National Museum.