Sunday, May 24, 2009

Will Underground Rome Be Visitor Friendly?


I'm glad more of "hidden" Rome is opening to the public - just unfortunate that it didn't happen by the time of my visit in March. I can't help but wonder, though, if these new visitor viewing opportunities are motivated more by commercial interest rather than a desire to share cultural heritage.

[Image: 2nd century CE guardroom. Image courtesy of Times Online]

I was dismayed by the number of "admission" gates that have sprung up all over Rome since my first visit in 2005. Even the Forum Romanum is gated now - the symbolic gathering place for the Res Publica since ancient times. I realize conserving antiquities is expensive but some efforts to milk the tourists have really gotten to the point of ridiculous. The new museum encompassing Trajan's market has but a handful of artifacts on display but commands an admission price equal to that of the Capitoline Museum. I guess they have to pay for the new glass-doored elevator that takes people down to the lower level of the market. But most of the market was visible from the street before and the new visitor viewing areas don't let you get much closer now. I was also disappointed with the Archaeobus. The sound system for the little ear buds was so poor you couldn't hear anything above the road noise. The bus careened through the streets at a speed that made appreciation of the drive a challenge. Buses were scheduled 30 minutes apart which made coordination difficult when tours of the catacombs themselves took 30 minutes, so by the time you emerged you just missed the next bus and had to spend a lot of time waiting. The buses did not stop at each venue. You had to be prepared to buzz the driver if you wished to disembark and, if no one was standing by the bus sign, the buses just roared by. I realize this is how city buses often operate but this method is not visitor friendly for tourists who don't know exactly where to get off or are participating in tours at some of the venues.

When I was in York several years ago, I used the hop-on hop-off bus there and enjoyed the convenience and the friendly conversation of the bus driver who pointed out historical sites along the way. The drivers watched for tourists who appeared to be headed for the bus stop even if they had not yet made it and waited a few minutes. The buses were also about 15 minutes apart so even if you missed one bus you didn't have to stand around too long waiting for the next. The operators of the Archaeobus would do well to discuss service issues with the operators of the hop-on hop-off bus in York.

"Visitors to Rome will soon be able to discover a world of ancient treasures beneath their feet when the city opens dozens of previously unseen underground sites to the public.

They include the Ludus Magnus, the barracks beneath the Colosseum where gladiators assembled before entering the great arena to meet their fate; the well-preserved necropolis of Santa Rosa at the Vatican, with tombs from the 1st to the 5th centuries, and pagan temples.

Tourists can also explore the frescoed 2nd century Temple of Mithras, the pagan cult, beneath the 17th Century Palazzo Barberini, which houses one of Rome’s foremost art collections.

Francesco Marcolini, the head of Zetema, the cultural foundation in charge of the project, said that next year 15 more underground sites would be added, including a Jewish necropolis in the grounds of Villa Torlonia, formerly the Rome residence of Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator.- More: Times Online


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