The mayor was there, as was the regional governor. Once the speeches were over, drinks were served.
There was nothing unusual about the opening on Friday of the new Altino National Archaeological Museum, in northern Italy. Except that the museum has taken 30 years to inaugurate, is empty, and it closed again immediately after the ceremony.
“It’s been a story of interest and disinterest,” said Maurizio Donadelli, who for several years as a local councillor has watched and chivvied as the museum edged its way towards completion.
Now a village of fewer than 100 inhabitants, Altino has immense archaeological significance as it occupies the site of the classical city of Altinum. Aerial photographs show that below the surrounding fields lies an amphitheatre only fractionally smaller than the great arena in Verona. Refugees from Altinum were among those fleeing Germanic tribal invaders who founded in the nearby lagoon the settlement that became Venice.
In 1984, two disused agricultural buildings were acquired to house the museum. Yet when Donadelli became a councillor 17 years later, the museum was still a dream. The same year, an ancient sanctuary was found nearby and what little money was left was spent on its excavation.
By 2004, Donadelli and others had succeeded in extracting from Rome a pledge of €3m to be paid in three tranches to the local offices of the heritage ministry. In 2006, the central government demanded a breakdown of how the money so far transferred had been spent, only to be asked: what money? According to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the original pledge was accompanied by a document to be signed before the funds could be released. No one signed it.
By 2009, thanks to the efforts of the local parish priest and a regional government official, another €6m had been pledged, some of it by Brussels. But the EU component was not spent in time, causing further delay.
Since the fabric of the building has now been completed, it was felt that an inaugural ceremony was in order. But the regional authorities say they need another €2m to finish the work and install the exhibits.
“I’ve heard the inauguration proper will take place next summer,” said Donadelli. “But I’m not certain.”
• This article was amended on 13 December 2014 to clarify a quote by Maurizio Donadelli.