Rome hopes for some heritage handouts

By Michael Day

As traffic continues to bring the centre of Rome to a standstill, philanthropists across the world are being invited to fund a scheme by the city's mayor to turn the Via dei Fori Imperiali into a pedestrian zone.

The left-wing Ignazio Marino has ambitious plans for Rome, and wants to shut out traffic once and for all from the glorious avenue that runs from Mussolini's Altar of the Fatherland to the Colosseum, via the ancient forums. It is to become an archaeological park from which Italy's more recent obsession, the automobile, is banished.

But while the need to preserve the capital's cultural heritage is not in doubt - Marino's plans dwarf those for making Trafalgar Square in London a pedestrian area - where the money is going to come from is less clear.

Experts have been warning for decades that Rome's relentless traffic is grinding its monuments to dust. "In my vision for the next 15 to 20 years, the birth of the archaeological park is the first step," said Marino last week. "I'm not a chemist. But I listened carefully to the explanations of the experts on the damage suffered by Trajan's Column, the Colosseum and the Temple of Saturn."

Marino is hoping for big donations from companies and even other countries. "I met three heads of multinational corporations," he told Corriere della Sera last week.

He added that he had also received offers of support from Azerbaijan and the United Arab Emirates.

"If in Trenton, New Jersey, or in Sydney there is a billionaire [who wants to contribute], they are welcome," Marino said.

Perhaps optimistically, the mayor wants their money but not their advertising or vulgar publicity. "I'm thinking about philanthropy."

Given the Italian state's seeming inability or unwillingness to care for its heritage - despite the lucrative tourism it brings - many observers feel private sponsorship is the way ahead, not only for Rome, but for precious sites across the country.

- Independent

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