In a bid to raise much-needed funds for its struggling economy, the Italian government is auctioning off more than a dozen picturesque lighthouses off the coast of Sardinia.
The lighthouses will be leased to private companies, and could now be transformed into hotels, resorts, galleries or even research centers.
The BBC reported in March that public debt in Italy totals about 120 percent of annual economic output (GDP). Burdened by recession, the economy grew only 0.4 percent last year, and is expected to shrink in 2012. Overwhelming debt and high borrowing costs motivated the country to replace the scandal-ridden government of Silvio Berlusconi with a team of technocrats, led by economist Mario Monti as prime minister.
Austerity plans are now in effect as inflation grows and taxes rise. In looking to capitalize on state-owned lighthouses, castles, old army barracks and other valuable properties, Italy is demonstrating a resolve to use every possible resource to stave off economic disaster.
The lighthouses will be leased at unspecified market rates in the coming weeks, according to the Daily Telegraph. Many of the structures were built during the 1800s and are in disuse, since new navigational technologies have made them superfluous. Some are in serious disrepair, and the Italian government is in no position to foot the bill for their maintenance or reconstruction.
Alessio Satta, the executive director of Sardinia's Agency for Coastal Conservation, told the Christian Science Monitor that several of these lighthouses could use new management. They have been inaccessible to the public for ages because they were owned and run by the Coast Guard or the Navy, he said.
Some are in good condition and need just a little investment, while others are in a really bad state and would need a couple of million euros of refurbishment.
For investors, it may all come down to location, location, location. Neglected or not, these lighthouses overlook bright blue waters and clean white beaches -- the Sardinia area has been a tourist magnet for centuries.
Satta said that although these properties could be turned into expensive getaways for affluent vacationers, he hopes their developers will keep the general public in mind.
We want to create places that can be visited by everybody, he said. We don't want to create fortresses for the rich.