As a non Roman, non Italian even, some may think I’ve got a cheek commenting. As a European citizen and a lover of Rome and Italy I don’t give a damn about that. And in fact my rant is for the benefit of Romans and Italians too and touches on wider issues, such as the bureaucrats who control all the world’s great cities.
Those who know me will know I’m no great fan of bureaucrats or politicians, and this kind of thing doesn’t help! My title could more appropriately be ‘The Tragedy Of The Forum Of Rome’ , for despite the ides of March being not long gone, nobody has been murdered in the forum. Nor indeed was the mighty Caesar, who met his end at a meeting of the Senate of Rome, held ironically in the Theatre of Pompey (his vanquished rival in the civil war) on the Campus Martius.
The Forum of Rome or Foro Romano was however the beating heart of classical Rome. For two and a half thousand years, this has been a public space, from the Kings, through the Republican and Imperial phases of Rome’s history, the forum was the commercial, legal, administrative, political and religious hub, of this the most powerful city in the classical world. Every great city had its forum, but if the forum was the heart of the city, then the forum in Rome was the heart of the known world.
Rome unified most of Europe, and a great deal more, from the Scottish borders in the North (although the Roman legions pushed a lot further north than Hadrian’s Wall), to North Africa and Egypt. This, a feat not nearly equalled since. At the height of empire, Rome’s great legal orators, such as Cicero, made their speeches here in the law courts, politicians spoke from the Rostra, decorated with the peaks of ships captured in the wars with Carthage, and all Roman life was here, from slaves to the rich, powerful and mighty. Shops were here and street vendors, savoury pasty sellers (yes Cornwall, read it and weep, pasties were sold in the Roman forum two thousand years ago). Everyone visited the forum.
Marius, Sulla, Sertorius, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, Caligula, Caracalla and any famous Roman you can think of walked through the Foro Romano. And until a few days ago, anyone could walk from the Arch of Constantine, he who legalised Christianity, up the Via Sacra to the Arch of Vespasian, the first Emperor from outside the original Imperial family, and on down into the forum itself. A mass of ruins now yet still evocative of the grandeur that was Rome. The casual stroller could continue through the ruined temples, courts, shops et al, to the Arch of Septimus Severus, the Tarpeian rock, from which the condemned were hurled to their deaths, and finally to the Capitoline Museum, the oldest museum in the world.
But, what is this, a metal gate at the entrance to the Via Sacra, a crude ‘Exit Only’ sign. This week is ‘Culture Week’ in Rome and major attractions such as the Palatine Hill, home of the Imperial Palace, and the Colloseum, known to all I imagine, are free, as are the baths of Caracalla and other attractions. However, from April 1st, affectionately known as April Fools Day in the United Kingdom, it’s back to business as usual. With one enormous change, you can’t get into the Forum, by any route, without paying. Nor can you buy a ticket for the forum alone, oh no, you have to buy a combined ticket for Forum, Colloseum and Palatine.
So, lets consider the implications of that. Of course I realise that sites of archaeological importance require upkeep. Thousands of people tramping through create wear and tear, and sadly litter, and they need policing, again sadly, to prevent graffiti, vandalism and souvenir taking. And of course that costs money.
It also costs money to maintain a park for example, be it Hyde Park in London, Central Park in New York, or any other park. Grass needs to be cut, hedges trimmed, litter collected, sculptures, fountains and memorials protected. And that’s the parallel I want to draw with the Foro Romano. For two and a half thousand years, think about that for a moment if you will, what other city has had a public space like this for two and a half thousand years? Anyway, for two and a half thousand years this has been a place to wander freely and soak up the atmosphere, listen to the ghosts commune with the past.
Visit the Palatine and the Colloseum, the baths and the museums, once or several times, but a stroll in the forum is like a stroll in the park, on any or every Sunday, or any sunny day, for anyone, as it always was and always should be.
So lets go back to those other considerations. Why not charge the same for a ticket to the Colloseum and Palatine as to all three? You’ll get the same number of takers, will this new move drastically increase income for the City. I think not, what visitor to Rome does not visit the Colloseum, the Palatine or at least one of the great museums? Rome makes a fortune, honest and deserved, from it’s visitors from the world over, will closing off the forum encourage more?
So what of the wear and tear? Everyone buying a ticket for three attractions is likely to use it for all three. Time will tell what the outcome will be, slightly smaller numbers in the forum possibly, but maybe more punishment for the Palatine, it could happen. Staffing levels will probably have to be increased and the atmosphere will inevitably change, one way in, one way out and no rubbing shoulders with the locals, tourists only from Tuesday. The character of arguably the world’s oldest and most intriguing public place changed forever, unless Rome comes to its senses.
So who made this decision? I know not, a bureaucrat or a politician obviously. As a cynic I envisage a person anxious to make his or her mark, someone on an upward career path, someone sure of his or her importance, but not someone caring about the welfare of the masses. So, if you agree, let the Commune Di Roma, the City officials, the tourist board, the politicians, anyone in authority know. If they think it’s good for their career they might reverse the decision, or IF they’re a caring politician, they might even see what’s been lost, well one can live in hope. Life is not so easy in Italy, the economy is not booming, the government is hamstrung and elections are going on, maybe Italians and Romans have too much on their minds to notice what’s been taken from them, and from all of us and that’s the real tragedy of the Foro Romano.