(AFP) - Long-delayed repairs to the 2,000-year-old Colosseum will begin in December in a project funded by Italian billionaire Diego Della Valle to save the crumbling monument, officials said on Tuesday.
The culture ministry said the first contract for the restoration project -- an 8.3-million-euro ($10.2-million) tender to clean up the facade of the Roman amphitheatre blackened by passing traffic -- was awarded last week.
The restoration of the Colosseum will last two and a half years and the ancient monument, which is one of the most visited sites in the world, will be covered in scaffolding but will be accessible to the public throughout.
Della Valle, owner of the Tod's shoe empire, and Culture Minister Lorenzo Ornaghi hailed the project at a press conference in Rome.
"Tod's is proud to support this project and to help preserve one of the symbols of Italy in the world," Della Valle said.
Della Valle and Ornaghi said they hoped the project would encourage more private businesses to contribute towards restoring Italy's monuments.
"The future of Italy will be through making use of the beauty of its monuments and its landscapes as well as its food," Della Valle said.
Apart from cleaning, restorers will also repair cracks in the building and remove temporary metal arches installed on the ground level.
The project, which also includes construction of a new visitor centre and repairs on all the internal and subterranean areas of the monument, will increase by a quarter the areas accessible to tourists.
The number of visitors to the Colosseum, which measures 188 metres (620 feet) by 156 metres and is 48.5 metres high, has increased from a million around six million a year over the past decade thanks mainly to the blockbuster film "Gladiator".
The monument was completed in 80 AD by the Roman emperor Titus and reports on its pitiful state have often featured in Italian media in recent months.
A group of tourists noticed small pieces of tuff rock falling from the Colosseum in January -- the latest of many such incidents in recent years.
A recent study also found the whole monument is tilting by 40 centimetres (16 inches) on its southern side possibly due to cracked foundations.
Some reports suggest a project like the one used on the Leaning Tower of Pisa to stop it tilting further may be needed to prevent it collapsing.
More studies on the tilt are due to be compiled by next year.
"There is nothing worrying," Mariarosaria Barbera, the chief superintendent for Rome's archaeological monuments, told reporters when asked about the tilt.
The Colosseum "is being monitored very closely," she said.
Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno said the project due to wrap up in mid-2015 would restore the Colosseum to its former glory.
"We have to turn the Colosseum into the central point of our city and our country," he said.