Standing the Test of Time

Francis Cian Brosnan travels to Rome to get see how tourism effects the city’s more ancient monuments such as the Colosseum and Roman Forums. He also talks to the people of Rome to see what they think about regulating tourism for the safety of the city’s most famous landmarks.

Rome, the eternal city, a city full of wonder and history that no other city can compare to. Every time you turn a corner you step into a different period in history as you witness ancient monuments and stunning architecture from Roman and Italian history. These monuments are what make Rome so special and are the reason why people flock from all around the world to visit the eternal city.

However these monuments are very much in danger. Monuments such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon have stood tall and proud for almost two thousand years but have not been able to avoid the one thing that claims everything and everyone, time. These ancient monuments have naturally decayed as time goes by and this is something that is not going to stop, especially with the millions of tourists that visit the city every year. Pollution has also contributed as a layer of soot and grime had attached itself to some of the larger monuments.

The effects of tourism was extremely evident to see at Rome’s most popular tourist attraction,

A long line of people waiting at the Colosseum

The Colosseum. Around 6.5 million people visited the former Gladiator arena in 2015, nearly 18 000 people each day which is why there was a waiting time of 25 minutes before you even got to buy a ticket.

People, who were clearly exhausted from the Italian summer heat were leaning up against the chipped and cracked pillars of the amphitheatre everywhere they could, guzzling bottles of water. This is a common site during the warm Italian summers as tourists lean on the walls of the Colosseum, wearing away the ancient stone that has stood for nearly 2000 years.

Tour guide Josh, a 35 year old man from Florida who moved to Europe six years ago for a different life as “he just wasn’t suited to a normal behind a desk, 9-5 job” explained why this is can be damaging.

“Obviously one person every now and then leaning/sitting up on a ledge or pillar is pretty harmless. It’s just because there’s just so many people who come here and this heat can be pretty tough for most, sometimes I can’t even hack it. Nobody really means any harm but of course when you’ve got thousands of people doing the same thing it’s going to leave a mark.” He points to one of the ledges on the middle tier, which had parts chipped and were slightly worn away.

As for the lack of barricades, it appears that authenticity is the issue. “The real fragile areas such as the lower tier and areas under restoration are shut off from the public apart from a few exceptions. If anymore is closed off it would ruin the immersion. Perhaps the main reason this place is so loved is because it feels like its transports you back to one of the most interesting periods of human history. People like feeling like they’re at a Gladiator fight or walking through Ancient Rome when you visit the Roman forums. I’d imagine they don’t want to ruin that such a special atmosphere for people. It’s truly unique”

While most people treat the monuments with the respect they deserve, there are those who

Names etched into a vandalized pillar of the Colosseum

choose to be ignorant about the significance of the Colosseum. We reach a stop on our tour overlooking the Roman forums and the Arch of Constantine. One of the pillars has been defaced by people etching their names into the stone bricks.

“It’s really frustrating,” remarked Josh. “With the millions of people who visit here every year it takes only a few bad eggs to cause real damage. They may think it’s only a little mark but to patch the wall up is a delicate process. It’s not like they can slap a fresh coat of paint over it.”

A spokesperson for the Special Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Rome told the Guardian in 2015 that “There’s a difference in perception by visitors. Museums are treated like churches, sacred places where there are things of great value. Whereas the Colosseum is an incomplete building which has already been robbed over the centuries. ”

The Colosseum is probably one of Rome’s more protected attractions and if you are caught trying to deface or damage it by the ever present security you face severe punishment. However, attractions such as the Roman Forums, Piazza de Popolo, Spanish steps and Trevi Fountain that are out in the open have very little security are much harder to protect. This was extremely evident in the Roman Forums.

Vandalism at the Piazza de Popolo

People are allowed to walk around freely but the only thing stopping them from entering the more delicate parts are waist high fences and some signs. Just walking around the forums you’d see people hopping over the fences to satisfy their curiosity. So how do you stop this?

Romes city council enforces harsh penalties for damaging any of Rome’s antiquity sites. A Russian tourist was fined €20,000 and handed a suspended prison sentence for carving his initials into the Colosseum in 2014. Two American woman in their early 20’s were given similar punishments for scratching their names into the arena in November 2015. Of course not everybody abides by these rules and of course not everybody is caught as there is only one security guard for every 2,500 visitors.

A report published by UNESCO titled Managing Tourism at World Heritage Sites: a Practical Manual for World Heritage Site Managers proposed a number of solutions that could help to prevent damage to some of the world’s most famous attractions. The overwhelming solution was to regulate the amount of tourists who enter these sites along with a number of other possible solutions.

“Possible solutions include restricting the number of people who can enter the threatened area; limiting the permissible length of stay in the threatened area; raising the entrance fee for the threatened area only; not providing facilities in the threatened area; zoning an area for a particular activity and not permitting activity in the threatened area.”

Of course all of these solutions will have a major impact on the income of the attractions and all of the local businesses surrounding the attractions. Just like most other popular tourist destinations, a lot of businesses, especially bars and restaurants rely on tourism to stay open. If not as many tourists travel to Italy, many of these businesses would lose a significant portion of their income. This would be particularly devastating in a country like Italy that currently has an unemployment rate of 11.7% and a tourism industry that contributes to 11.1% of the Italian economy.

Therefore, the city is left with quite the predicament. Does it sacrifice a significant portion of its income in order to preserve the landmarks that have made it one of the world’s most famous cities? Or does it continue to welcome millions of people from all across the globe and constantly face the large cost of restoring and repairing the heritage sites. This would also run the risk of suffering irreparable damage to some of the world’s modern wonders.

It is easy for someone who doesn’t live in Rome to give their opinion on what would be the best choice but what about someone would be effected by such a decision. To get the best idea of what the people of Rome thought about the issue, its best to talk to those who rely on tourism for a living.

“For me, I think everything should be done to save the sites. They are what make my city so

Restoration at the Colosseum

famous all around the world. I am a proud Roman, I love my city. What would Rome be without our historical monuments?”

However, a 52 year old man named Francesco, the owner of an Irish bar outside the city centre had a different view. “It is unfortunate that the tourist sites get damaged but if you ask me its inescapable. The sites are just going to be damaged by the elements anyway, if an earthquake or a big storm happens it will do more damage than any tourist could ever do. Think of all the hotels, restaurants and bars like mine that would be hurt. Some people can barely get by as it is, we can’t afford to lose any more tourists.”

A number of people in a few other bars and restaurants who were in close proximity of famous attractions shared the same views as Lucia and Francesco. It would appear then that the people of Rome are very much divided by the issue. This leaves the government in an awkward position. They risk angering a significant portion of voters in not only Rome but also in other cities that rely on tourism such as Florence and Venice.

This also raises the question as to whether the government is even willing to lose out on the money tourism generates for its economy. Italy is far from the richest country in Europe and is barely able to raise the funds that are required for the restoration projects as it is. The government has decided to controversially rely on private corporations to fund these projects.

The €25 million ($34 million) refurbishment of the Colosseum funded by luxury group Tod’s, the $4 million restoration of the Trevi Fountain sponsored by Fendi, and $2 million from Bulgari to work on the Spanish Steps are some of the projects that have taken place. This a moved that has not gained much public favour with many seeing it as Italy moving further and further towards privatisation.

So it would appear that Rome will continue to welcome tourists with open arms despite the damage and constant costs. With flights and hotels getting increasingly cheaper around Europe and in Italy it would appear that the constant flow of visitors shows no sign of slowing down. Perhaps the famous monuments of Rome will stand the test of time for another 1000 years or maybe they will fade away out of existence.

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