Cash-for-Castles: Italy sells off historic sites to plug budget holes

20icsiA Grand Inquisitor’s villa, a Pope’s fort and a Venetian island will be sold off to fill Italy’s depleted state coffers, local media reports. It’s hoped the 50 historic sites will raise 500 million euros needed to obey strict EU austerity rules.

The plan to offer some of Italy’s state-owned real estate to private investors is part of an emergency decree aimed at keeping the country’s 2013 budget deficit within 3 percent threshold set by Brussels, the Corriere della Serra newspaper reports.

Apart from receiving direct revenue from the sell-offs, Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government is hoping the castles and villas will be converted into hotels, restaurants and museums, creating much-needed jobs for the country’s struggling economy.

Greece, another European country under tough EU-imposed austerity rules, last year also enacted a similar sell-off, offering some if its islands, beaches and ski resorts to private buyers. Italy sold off several lighthouses on the island of Sardinia last year.

The properties chosen for the new sale will be marketed through a state-run fund. Among them is the Orsini Castle near Rome, which was built for Pope Nicholas III in the 1270s. It was used as a prison between the mid-19th century and 1989, and according to local superstition is believed to be haunted.

Another national treasure to be offered is Villa Mirabello near Milan, built in the 18th century by Cardinal Durini, the Grand Inquisitor of Malta.

In a Venice lagoon, investors can buy the Island of San Giacomo. A home for monks since the 11th century, it was converted into a military base in the 1800s, but was abandoned in 1961 and left to crumble into ruins.

The scheme makes business sense, Italy-based property expert Rupert Fawcett told the newspaper.

“The reality is that any government in Europe is looking to raise funds where they can,” he said. “The cost of running these properties can be huge and the sheer upkeep of them can be unmanageable.”