Rome's New Mayor Wants The Monuments Pedestrian Friendly
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
We end this hour with another installment from out series Summer Nights. We're taking you to places that come to life when the sun goes down. And for this evening, we head to Rome where Romans recently held a White Night, an all-night summer arts festival that celebrated a new traffic ban in the heart of the city. Rome's new mayor implemented the ban. He wants to highlight the eternal city's often neglected archeological treasures, lower pollution levels and allow Roman pedestrians and cyclists to reclaim the night.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli went out to experience the White Night.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: A funny thing happened to 150,000 people on their way to the Forum. They look upward and watch anxiously as acrobat Andrea Loreni makes his way slowly on a tightrope stretched across Via dei Fori Imperiali, the wide avenue flanking the Roman Forum and leading to the Coliseum.
The acrobat's walk is meant as a metaphor, a bridge reuniting ancient squares. When dictator Benito Mussolini built the avenue in the 1920s as a tribute to fascism's imperial aspirations, he destroyed a densely populated neighborhood and separated the forums of the emperors Trajan, Augustus, Caesar, and Nerva.
In 1953, the thoroughfare was immortalized by Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on a scooter ride in the movie "Roman Holiday." Before the new ban, it was used by some 1,600 motorists an hour during peak traffic. But starting with this White Night, no one will have to plug their ears against beeping horns or duck for cover from speeding SUVs.
Even the policemen's marching band joins the celebrations.
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POGGIOLI: While entertainment filled the avenue, the ancient Roman Forum is open for visitors. And from now through October, tourists and archaeological buffs will be able to take moonlight guided tours of the ancient temples and civic buildings, and walk in the footsteps of Julius and Augustus Caesar.
On this White Night, tens of thousands stroll toward the Coliseum, one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. Its days as traffic circle belong to the past. The crowd is young and old. Many have come by bike. Parents push strollers, kids on fathers' shoulders admire the massive Maxentius Basilica. Like many here, Barbara Marcotulli is totally content.
BARBARA MARCOTULLI: I like it. I mean, I think it was long overdue. I think it was necessary somehow. I'm just enjoying the night. I like the idea of having everything pedestrian and walkable and cyclable. It's much nicer this way.
POGGIOLI: Ignazio Marino became mayor in June. And by banning private traffic along this avenue, he has fulfilled a decades-old dream of archaeologists and conservators. He describes how Romans nights are a-changing.
MAYOR IGNAZIO MARINO: We will have a place where people can bike, walk, enjoy this incredible archaeological site. We need to give back this place to the entire planet.
POGGIOLI: But Romans are dedicated car lovers. There are 980 cars per 1,000 people, three times as many as in London. And along with shopkeepers, many are opposed to the traffic ban. Still, Mayor Marino is on a crusade. He plans to widen the pedestrian area as much as possible in order to create what he envisions as the largest archaeological park in the world.
MARINO: To give back to the world this incredible place, which is a living testimony of our art, culture, literature, in other words, everything that has to do with our civilization.
POGGIOLI: One of the most appreciated events of this White Night is the Ponentino Trio's performance of one of the most popular Roman folk songs.
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POGGIOLI: It describes Roman's favorite pastimes, eating pasta, singing and dancing in the streets. And like the city in antiquity, when it became the first multi-ethnic capital in history, the lyrics welcome everyone, Bengalis, Columbians, Brazilians, Romanians, and Africans, they are now all Romans.
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POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.