Rome is Falling
Like many, I’ve always romanticised the idea of Rome. Its cobbled streets and ancient monuments enchant me, and it’s even somewhat overwhelming to contemplate the amount of history and meaning packed into the sprawling city considering much of it forms the foundation of Western civilisation.
Although it’s common knowledge that Rome it’s one of the most-visited destinations in the world, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer amount of people I would encounter at each of the main attractions. I nearly got taken out with a selfie stick on more than one occasion, and oftentimes was carried along by an actual sea of sweaty Canon 1000D-clad bodies. You’d think that with such a massive influx of tourists, coupled with the entrance fees for the monuments, the city would have no problemo making a buck – but no.
Rome is going broke.
In May this year, the city issued a plea for financial assistance totalling about €500m, which it needs to spruce up its infrastructure and historical sites. The required maintenance ranges from weeding and minor fixes to full-on structural repair, and city admin has zoned in on locals, rich altruists and big business to provide the moolah. There’s no way the capital can afford to undertake the work itself – its debts are currently hovering at around €13 billion.
During my visit in May, areas of the Roman Forum, as well as the Spanish Steps, were shackled in scaffolding. Supposedly they have been bidded as repair projects by Todds and Bulgari respectively, so that’s a start, at least – although it’s somewhat bothersome to know that some of the world’s most famed monuments are essentially being auctioned off so that businesses can promote their public image. Perhaps it’s a necessary evil; other landmarks are looking straight-up dishevelled. The Circus Maximus in particular wouldn’t look out of place in a dystopian fantasy film, and the area surrounding the Pantheon was littered with trash.
Problem is, there’s obviously no point in raising funds if they’re not allocated in the correct places. The breaking of the “Mafia Capitale” scandal earlier this year exposed the misappropriation by political leaders of state money destined for city services, skimming off profits while colluding with criminal gangs. This has had major implications on the city – a 2014 European Commission survey placed Rome last out of 28 European capitals in a ranking for the efficiency of city services. Of course, this begs the question – where does the money go in Rome?
Many are hoping that the introduction of the new mayor, Virginia Raggi of populist party Five Star Movement, will straighten things out following their strong anti-corruption campaigns. She seems a sure improvement from Ignazio Marino, who was caught in the midst of an expense scandal just prior to his resignation – but only time will tell whether she’ll actually manage to cut the administrative rot and raise some money for the beautiful but broken city. One of her first orders of business will be to claim back €250m and €400m in unpaid taxes from the Vatican – these have allegedly never been collected for fear of taking on the church.
One thing’s for sure – if it doesn’t get some money in the bank, and ASAP, the city’s famous ruins could turn into actual ruins under the utter tirade of people that visit on the daily. Let’s just hope that the money goes to the right place, and we don’t end up with Bulgari logos plastered along the Spanish Steps.
Cover by the author