For those of you who read this blog, you will have noticed that I write a lot about the City of Rome. It is the City that was for 1000 years the Capital of the known world. Much more so than Athens which was a City-State but never became the centre of a vast Empire, despite the many gifts Athens gave the world, Democracy, Theatre, Rhetoric, Philosophy, etc… which shaped the development of the Western World.
Rome like Sleeping Beauty falls into a 900 year sleep when Emperor Constantine for political and administrative reasons decided to move the Capital to Ravenna and then create a new Capital Constantinople (Istanbul) in 330 AD. Ushering the Middle-Age, a period of illiteracy and superstition, knowledge left the world only to be reborn in 1300 with the Italian Renaissance which brought back Humanist values and a re-birth of the old ideas of Greece and Rome.
Equestrian statue of Emperor Constantine (272 AD to 337 AD), in the entrance portico of the Cathedral of San John Lateran in Rome.
This brings us to Rome today, with all its infrastructure problems and the building of Line C of the Metropolitana, the subway system, 7 years late and 3 billion Euros over budget. Rome is a city of 3 million people in a small dense area, crammed with cultural and artistic treasures everywhere you look. Rome today was re-built largely at the time of the late Renaissance (1490-1560) and the age of the Baroque (1600-1720) re-modelling buildings of antiquity and late Middle-Age. The next big construction spurt came between 1860 and 1938. Rome being what it is suffers from procrastination, City Officials, the political class, Academics, Archeologists, Historians and everyone in between has an opinion as to what to do in terms of development but decisions are slow to come and never quite final. So since 1960 it has been far easier to develop the outlying areas some 20 Km from the centre than the centre itself. The only man who dared demolish on a grand scale the centre of the City to open it up to new development was Benito Mussolini who has dictator in 20 years in power did develop the infrastructure of the City without taking into account what others had to say. Everyone including the tourists benefitted from these great civic works. What you see today in the Forum area is his doing, around the Vatican, and the new neighbourhoods outside the Aurelian Walls and EUR including the metro system all his doing. But this was achieved only through the demolition of entire neighbourhoods and created employment for thousands of men at the time of the great depression.
Demolition of neighbourhoods to create Via dell’Impero known today as Via dei Fori Imperiali.
Today things are different, I subscribe to a blog Rome – The Imperial Fora: Archaeological News and Related Studies 2010-2015 which devotes all its entries to Rome and what is happening in the City, four to five times a day I will get long blog entries in Italian, sometimes in English written by people who are researchers, archeologists and historians, the host is Martin G. Conde, (I do not read it all it’s often too laboured) on a project delay or a scandal involving a construction site. https://rometheimperialfora19952010.wordpress.com
Presently Line C of the Metro is crawling towards its connection with San Giovanni Laterano on Line A. Last year 12 stations opened all at once from Pantano to Parco di Centocelle, this year the line is extended from Mirti to Lodi. The Station at Lodi is 1 Km from San Giovanni. Next year it will finally be connected to Line A of the Metro system. This new line has been in construction for 15 years. Now for the difficult part and the fight with historians, archeologists, tree lovers and Romans who have an opinion on the matter, well they all do.
The next phase will see Line C go towards the historical section of the Roman Forum and Piazza Venezia and then down Corso Vittorio Emanuelle towards the river Tiber and the Vatican on the other side. You could walk the distance in about 40 minutes. The metro tunnels are some 60 meters underground, one would think it’s deep enough to avoid any artifacts from Antiquity. Not so. In 2008, 2009 at Piazza Venezia which is the centre of Rome, archeologists preparing the ground for the arrival of the metro tunnel discovered the long forgotten or lost Academy of Emperor Hadrian and another building connected to the Forum of Emperor Trajan next to it. Both buildings where just a few meters below the street surface and all that is left are brick walls and the inlaid coloured marble floors. Well this discovery stopped all work on the metro line for 4 years. Then discussion papers were presented and long meetings and conferences held with a host of archeologists, historians and all kinds of experts on antiquity, what to do, some proposed to cancel the metro stop all together at Piazza Venezia. Others pointed out that Mussolini had a Metro station built at the Colosseum, yes but he was a dictator. Others also pointed out that the tunnels are so deep they cannot come in contact with the two buildings at Piazza Venezia. Yes but those buildings are important witness of the past and should not be disturbed though they are now reburied under the street. Does this make any sense? Is it practical to think thus? Cost overruns and delays should trump such concerns given that all the necessary research work has been done.
So here you have it the eternal question for the Eternal City, Is Rome a city for the living or is Rome a vast Museum to the glory of the Imperial past.
If you are wondering the tunnel work has resume on the section between San Giovanni and Colosseo and Piazza Venezia. Each day the blog publishes photos of the progress of the work along Via Fori Imperiali and along the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Rome to the great disapproval of the experts. But the discussions and gnashing of teeth goes on and on and on. In the end I predict that the metro line will be opened and work completed despite it all. Italians are very attached to the past but in the end things do get done.