Italy’s Icons Become Billboards to Pay Debt

VIDEO: Italian government allows ads on Roman Colosseum and other historic sites.

Marco Secchi/Getty Images

ABC News’ Kelly Cobiella Reports:

Rome is ground zero for what could be a global financial catastrophe.

Italy’s financial mess is massive. The country is $2.5 trillion in debt, bigger than its entire economy. So the Italian government is looking for ways to fund its debts and everything is on the table, including some of the country’s iconic landmarks.

Who can forget Michelangelo’s David or that leaning tower in Pisa. In the past few years, some of these monuments have become billboards. From the Roman Colosseum to the canals of Venice, nothing appears to be off limits.

The money-making deal wrapping the Bridge of Sighs earned more than 2 million dollars from companies like Bulgari. The advertisement was recently removed.

To keep things afloat, the country will need to borrow $408 billion next year just to pay the interest on its debt, that’s the equivalent of selling more than 272,000 monumental ads.

Experts say Italy needs credibility and responsibility in government to get investors back on its side. Trading in the scandal-ridden Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for an economics professor named Mario Monti is the first step, if it happens as expected in the next week.

The next step would be sacrifice: higher taxes and cuts to social programs. Italians would have to give up some aspects of their “beautiful life” – job security, long vacations and plush pensions.

But shared sacrifice won’t come easy. When Berlusconi tried to introduce cuts last month, Italians rioted in the streets.

However, the alternative would be much worse, a bankrupt Italy that drags the rest of Europe and the U.S. down with it.

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