World-famous Riace Bronzes return to public eye
Splendid warriors from antiquity on display in Reggio Calabria23 December, 16:12
The much-loved 2,500-year-old Riace Bronzes are again on display in a renovated Reggio Calabria National Archeological Museum following four years of restoration work stalled, at times, by budget cuts. The towering statues, around two meters in height, of naked Greek warriors with rippling muscles, thick beards and manes of curling hair, are made of bronze and decorated with copper, glass and ivory.
The strikingly realistic-looking bronzes have been sought after by museums and spectators all over the world.
But the community guards them jealously, and is working to prevent them from travelling away from their southern Italy home where they attract as many as 300,000 visitors annually, cultural officials say. "There's a huge thrill to see two masterpieces such as the Riace bronzes which are here in their museum," Culture Minister Massimo Bray said Saturday at the first public viewing in years of the bronzes. "This is a beautiful place that we restored and returned to the city," added Bray.
"I think it's an important time of change in the country's cultural policy choices".
During the four-year renovation, the bronzes were stored, lying on their backs, in the offices of the Calabrian regional government - a situation that had been denounced by the United Nations cultural organization UNESCO as "a disgrace".
Italy has the world's biggest trove of archeological treasures, but the Riace Bronzes attracted particular attention, partly because of the general rarity of ancient bronze statues, which were often melted down and recycled.
The bronzes are two of the most stunning works ever recovered from the cultural hotbed created by the ancient Greek civilization in southern Italy called Magna Graecia (Greater Greece).
"Their charm is that they are ancient, and whole, and perfect - extremely refined," said Simonetta Bonomi, a senior archaeology official in the region of Calabria.
"A beautiful model of masculinity. The creation of an ideal of the male body".
Delays in the restoration project led to much frustration before the comments by an Italian official with UNESCO finally stirred action.
Politicians have demanded that Italy's culture minister take fast action to protect the historically significant and priceless statues.
Calabria takes the Bronzes so seriously that it has repeatedly refused permission for copies of the statues to be made and rejected pleas for Italian promotional events worldwide and for the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa.
In a citywide vote in 2003, the people of Reggio Calabria came out overwhelmingly against the "cloning" of the statues, which have been the Calabrian capital's biggest tourist draw since they were discovered.
The bronzes were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holiday-maker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast and turned out to be one of Italy's most important archaeological finds in the last 100 years.
Their trip across town to the regional council office for storage was supposed to be a brief one.
When they left the Archaeological Museum on December 22, 2009, Calabria's archaeological superintendent, Simonetta Bonomi, said it was "just for a six-month restoration".
The move was the first time in 28 years that the priceless 2,500-year-old bronzes had left the Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria.
The only previous occasion they were let out was in 1981, for a triumphant round-Italy tour, which sold out venues in Rome, Florence and Milan