Page last updated at 18:45 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Row over Venice Coke sponsorship

By David Willey
BBC News, Venice

Venice carnival (15 February 2009)
Signs of commercial sponsorship already surround the carnival crowds

A row has broken out in the Italian city of Venice over a new 2.1m-euro (1.8m; $2.7m) sponsorship deal between the authorities and Coca Cola.

Venice's mayor said the funds raised by allowing vending machines to sell the drink across the city would be used to safeguard its artistic heritage.

Venice has strict rules on the sale of food and beverages to tourists. In St Mark's Square, picnicking is banned.

Last year, nearly 20 million tourists visited, an increase of more than 30%.

Budget cuts

The Italian newspapers claim that Venice is not only being swamped with mass tourism and threatened by floods from the Adriatic Sea, but will soon also be awash with fizzy drinks.

The city council has accepted a $2.7m subsidy from the drinks giant, Coca Cola.

Sixty vending machines will sell the drink all over the city, including at the main waterbus stations and reportedly even St Mark's Square, where a city ordinance already forbids picnicking by tourists.

The funds obtained will be used with maximum transparency and for the purpose of conservation
Massimo Cacciari
Mayor of Venice

The Mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, has complained loudly about the lack of state funding to conserve the crumbling palaces and churches of the city and has strongly defended his decision to accept money from the US company.

Commercial sponsorship is the only financial strategy for safeguarding the monuments of Venice, he says.

The cash-strapped Italian government led by Silvio Berlusconi has slashed its budget for culture and the arts by a half this year and is investing millions of dollars in an ambitious engineering scheme of flood barriers to prevent Venice being swamped by high tides in winter.

Signs of commercial sponsorship already surround the carnival crowds.

A huge fashion-wear hoarding greets you on the opposite side of the Grand Canal as you emerge from the railway station, while other advertising covers the facades of buildings under restoration near the Doge's Palace.

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