The Italian government is to sell scores of historic properties to help it tackle its huge budget deficit.A haunted fortress, a cardinal’s palace and an island in the Venetian lagoon are among 50 sites for sale.
The move recalls 2012, when Greece was forced to sell off some its beautiful islands to foreign buyers, to chip away at its enormous debts.
The Italian government hope that the nation’s treasures will be bought by private businesses and converted into hotels, restaurants and museums, bringing much needed employment and international investment.
Minister for the economy Fabrizio Saccomanni aims to make £425million from the sell-off.
It was approved as part of an emergency decree aimed at keeping Italy’s 2013 budget deficit within 3 per cent to avoid corrective action by Brussels.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Enrico Letta is planning a further £1billion of austerity measures.
Italian property expert Rupert Fawcett said the scheme made ‘logical business sense’.
The idea was first mooted last year by Mario Monti, the technocrat who took over as Prime Minister in December 2011, when Silvio Berlusconi took public debt to unsustainable levels.
The ‘Kill Public Debt’ plan originally listed 350 properties but officials now deem that some assets, such as military airbases, are poorly suited for the commercial market.
The properties are to be marketed through a state-run fund who will advance the money to the Treasury, selling off the assets as buyers are found, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported.
The properties include Orsini Castle, which sits above its own feudal village near Viterbo, about 60miles from Rome.
The medieval fort was built for Pope Nicholas III in the 1270s and has a Euro 15 million price tag. Said to be haunted, it was used as a prison from the mid-19th century to 1989 and has since been an art gallery.
In Venice the properties on offer include the Island of San Giacomo in Palude, north-east of Murano.
The island was inhabited by monks and friars from the 11th century before it became a military base in the 1800s.
Since it was abandoned in 1961, it has fallen into ruin but could appeal to international investors as a luxury resort.
Other national treasures to go under the hammer include the 18th century palace, Villa Mirabello.
The frescoed villa, set in parkland near Monza, close to Milan, was built in the 18th century by Cardinal Durini, the Inquisitor of Malta.
Property expert Rupert Fawcett head of Knight Frank Italy said the scheme made ‘logical business sense’.
He said: ‘The reality is that any government in Europe is looking to raise funds where they can. The cost of running these properties can be huge and the sheer upkeep of them can be unmanageable.
‘If properties can be bought by private investors, restored to their former glory it’s good for everyone. It benefits local communities and puts some money in the state coffers.’
Head of the Italian employers federation Confindustria, Giorgio Squinzi, said to cut the deficit Italy’s needed ‘drastic action’.
‘Continuing with the status quo our country will remain, at zero or low growth.’
It is not the first time Italy has sold off assets. Last year a succession of lighthouses on the island of Sardinia were sold off to private businesses and converted into hotels, galleries, and museums.
The island’s autonomous government could no longer afford the cost of maintaining and restoring them.
Greece's sale last year of 70,000 lots included beaches, ski resorts and islands.