Rome mayor plans traffic revolution near ancient Colosseum

Thu Aug 1, 2013 10:53am EDT
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By Catherine Hornby and James Mackenzie

ROME (Reuters) - Less than two months in office, the mayor of Rome is promising a minor revolution in the Italian capital and risking the ire of local motorists by closing the area around the ancient imperial forum complex to traffic.

The roads near the forum and the nearby Colosseum will be shut down on Saturday night for a special series of celebrations before being cut off permanently, starting from 5.30 a.m the following morning.

The decision has aroused heated opposition from residents and motorists who fear chaos from traffic diversions, but newly-elected mayor Ignazio Marino says Rome's incomparable but often neglected archaeological treasures go beyond local politics.

"I don't want it to be a matter for the district of Monti," the 58-year-old surgeon-turned politician said this week, referring to the city zone where the site is located. "I want it to be a matter for the whole world."

The mighty Colosseum and the so-called "fori imperiali", a series of overlapping public squares built over more than 100 years by successive Roman emperors, are among the city's most spectacular sites, drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

But the area has long been divided by a wide thoroughfare constructed under former fascist dictator Benito Mussolini which cuts straight through the ancient ruins and forms a major road artery in a city that strains to keep its traffic under control.

It is a familiar issue in Rome, where infrastructure projects including the expansion of the underground metro system have long been held up by the need to protect the archaeological treasures that lie everywhere beneath the city streets.

But Marino, a top liver transplant specialist with long experience of working in the United States, compares Rome with other European capitals such as Paris, Berlin or London and says it has to do more with its rich artistic and cultural heritage.   Continued...

Matteo Achilli rides a scooter past the Colosseum in Rome July 25, 2013. REUTERS/Tony Gentile