By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) - Anita Ekberg, who famously waded in Rome's Trevi Fountain with Marcello Mastroianni in the 1960 classic film "La Dolce Vita", would probably say "It's about time, darling!"
The fountain, arguably the world's most recognizable, is about to get the most thorough face-lift since it was completed in 1762 and the restoration was presented on Monday by a man who also uses the word darling a lot: fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.
Lagerfeld is artistic director of Fendi, the Italian luxury fashion house which is picking up the tab for 2.2 million euro ($2.9 million) restoration.
"I think its a great idea and a great project. This fountain is a symbol of the Rome like the Colosseum and St Peter's and I am happy that we can all help," said Lagerfeld, wearing a black, high-neck jacket, black lace gloves and black sunglasses.
The 20-month restoration will clean the fountain, which covers the entire facade of Rome's Palazzo Poli with its allegorical statues of Tritons guiding the shell chariot of the god Oceanus illustrating the theme of the taming of the waters.
The restoration will remove calcium deposits, clean the statues, check the strength of steel supporting them, apply new waterproofing to the large basin, fix leaks, install new pumps and electric works and add new barriers to keep pigeons away.
But tourists need not worry. Only one third of the monument will be covered by scaffolding at any time.
The last restoration was about 25 years ago but officials said new techniques developed since then would make it the most thorough cleaning in the fountain's 251-year history.
"There is no tourist in the world who does not dream of standing before the Trevi Fountain at least once in their life," said Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno.
Tourists will still be able to toss coins in the basin - a tradition said to ensure that they will return to the Eternal City.
Not surprisingly, the soundtrack from the 1954 American romantic comedy "Three Coins in the Fountain" was played in the background at the presentation in Rome's city hall.
"Throwing a coin into the fountain is a rite and a right," said Umberto Broccoli, superintendent for Rome's cultural heritage.
A MILLION EUROS IN SMALL CHANGE
About a million euros ($1.35 million) worth of coins are thrown into the basin by tourists each year. All the money goes to a charity that helps the city's needy.
Rome-based Fendi, known for its extravagant furs and chic baguette clutches worn by movie star Sarah Jessica Parker and pop singer Rihanna, is the latest luxury goods company helping Italy keep up its cultural heritage sites.
Luxury shoemaker and leather goods company Tod's is sponsoring a major restoration of the Colosseum.
In tough economic times, Mayor Alemanno said, the city appreciated all the help it could get to keep up the capital's vast cultural heritage. He called the Fendi family the "new patrons" of the arts, likening them to the Medici family of Renaissance Tuscany.
"This is not to shirk our duties over to the private sector but the state needs a new patronage to help Italian culture," he said.
In exchange, Fendi will get only a small sign about the size of a coffee table book telling tourists that it was the sole sponsor. The sign will stay up for four years after the project is completed.
"It seemed right to thank this city, which since 1925 offered inspiration, creativity, aesthetic fervor and culture, a home where our brand has prospered and grown from a Roman fashion house into a global fashion label," said Pietro Beccari, president and CEO of Fendi.
Lagerfeld said he would make a book of photographs of Rome fountains called "Glory of Water". Fendi will also be sponsoring the restoration of another four fountains in the city as part of its "Fendi for Fountains" initiative.
The Trevi Fountain is where the late director Federico Fellini set one of the most famous scenes of modern cinema in La Dolce Vita.
Blonde siren Anita Ekberg wades into the fountain after midnight and beckons to Mastroianni, who strides in after her.
That black and white scene etched Mastroianni's boyish, handsome face, Ekberg's statuesque body - and the fountain - in the minds of millions.
Fellini and Mastroianni are both dead. Ekberg is still alive and is 81.
($1 = 0.7429 euros)
(Reporting By Philip Pullella)