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Debt-hit Italy sells off castles

Palaces on the Grand Canal in Venice and in the historic centre of Rome, medieval castles and even lighthouses are on the market

  • Venice rising
    Venice rising: Zohair Kamdar sent us this picture of Venice at its romantic best. The government of MarImage Credit: Zohair Kamdar
  • Venice rising
    The grand canal of Venice, Italy. Palaces on the Grand Canal in Venice and in the historic centre of Rome, medImage Credit: Supplied picture
Gulf News

Palaces on the Grand Canal in Venice and in the historic centre of Rome, medieval castles and even lighthouses are on the market as Italy plans to “sell the family silver” in an attempt to balance its books.

The government of Mario Monti, the prime minister, is drawing up a list of 800 state-owned properties for an unprecedented pounds £2.8 billion sell-off next year, officials said last week. Many local authorities are also marketing publicly owned properties to raise funds.

In Venice, the properties on offer include the 18th-century Palazzo Diedo on the Grand Canal. Built by a noble family, it served as law courts until earlier this year and is now on sale for £15 million.

In Rome, historic palaces that were formerly home to government ministries will be sold, including the vast former communications ministry near the Trevi fountain. Officials said the opulent 17th-century Palazzo Barberini, which houses the national gallery of ancient art, could also be sold.

The 12th-century Orsini castle that towers over the town of Soriano nel Cimino, near Viterbo, north of Rome, is also included. A former residence of nobles and popes, it was used as a prison from the mid-19th century to 1989 and has since been an art gallery.

On the list are disused army barracks, including five in Bologna and 20 in Piacenza, and several lighthouses. In the heart of Milan’s fashion district, the 19th-century Palazzo Bolis Gualdo is already on sale, priced at £24.5 million (Dh144.55 million).

Officials at the state property agency, which manages thousands of properties and is selling 350, said they would be marketed through a state-run fund due to be set up this autumn.

The sale of another 450 properties is expected to be announced next month. Officials said that in some cases the properties would be leased and investors would be allowed to charge rent.

Estate agents warned that the government could find many of the properties difficult to sell at a time when foreign investors are shunning Italy as a weak link in the Eurozone.

“Italy’s plan makes a lot of sense, because many countries are sitting on assets which are underused. It will bring money into the coffers and bring life back to many of the properties,” said Rupert Fawcett, head of the Italian department at Knight Frank.

“There are some attractive pieces there, gems like the palace on the Grand Canal and the castle. The ones which will attract foreign investors are those in prime locations - Venice, the centre of Rome or Florence - which can be converted into hotels or apartments, for example.”

Gianfranco Polillo, a treasury minister, said the government would “forge ahead, but with great caution... Doing this at a time when there’s very little cash in Italy is complicated.”

Last year the state tried to sell the former Convent of Barefoot Carmelites in Bologna but failed to find a buyer, despite a price cut from £10.2 million to £8 million.

Monti has introduced austerity measures, including raising taxes and the retirement age, as well as spending cuts to reduce the national debt from 123 per cent of GDP to 100 per cent. At present it stands at £1.5 trillion.