Long-delayed repairs of Rome\'s 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 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 famous amphitheatre blackened by passing traffic -- was awarded last week. The restoration will take two and a half years and the ancient Roman monument, one of the most visited 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 told reporters. Apart from cleaning, restorers will also repair cracks in the building and remove temporary metal arches installed on the ground level. The project also includes construction of a new visitor centre and repairs on all the internal and subterranean areas of the monument, which measures 188 metres by 156 metres and is 48.5 metres (160 feet) high. The areas accessible to tourists will increase by a quarter. The number of visitors to the Colosseum has increased from a million to around six million a year over the past decade thanks mainly to the blockbuster film \"Gladiator\".