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Colosseum area to be closed to traffic as restoration begins PDF Print E-mail
Jul 19, 2013 at 06:42 PM


As one of his first official moves, Rome's new mayor, Ignazio Marino, will be going ahead with the first phase of a plan to ban private traffic along much of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, the broad avenue leading from Piazza Venezia past the Roman forums and on to the Colosseum.

Turning at least half of the long avenue built by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini into an area closed to traffic is to be the first step to the creation of a sprawling archeological park that City Hall says will be unique.

The initial ban of private cars and motorcycles on July 30 is set to coincide with the first phase of the Colosseum's restoration, a €25 million project that is being financed by industrialist Diego Della Valle who owns the internationally-known shoe company, Tod's.  As of that date all private traffic that enters Via dei Fori Imperiali from Piazza Venezia will be forced to turn left on Via Cavour while buses and taxis, going at speeds no higher than 30 kilometers per hour, can continue but may be diverted around the front of the Colosseum. Later this year, or early in 2014, the Fori Imperiali's already spacious sidewalks will be broadened further and a bicycle path is to be built into the nearby Colle Oppio park.

The Colosseum project includes the restoration of the monument's north and south sides, the erection of iron gates to close off the perimeter arcades, full restoration of the underground area known as the hypogeum, already partially reconstructed, and possibly the building of a replica of at least one of the dozens of hoists used to lift up animals or scenery to the arena. Also provided for are the modernization of electrical systems and the creation of a full-fledged tourist services center.

Under the terms of the contract, Tod's will be able to use the Colosseum logo for 15 years and to put its brand on tickets sold to the five to six million people who each year pay to visit the nearly 2000 year-old monument.


Corpus Domini in Bolsena. June 2. 2013 PDF Print E-mail
Jun 16, 2013 at 08:31 PM

Image Don't want to go to Mass? Don't worry. Mass will come to you -- whether you like it or not. This is what happened to non-believers in Bolsena, a small, charming lake town in upper Lazio, two weeks ago on June 2, which along with being the day celebrating the birth of the Italian Republic, 67 years ago, was also Corpus Domini, which I believe in the U.S., we call Corpus Christi.

The mass celebrating this historical event, one which brings in hundreds of visitors from nearby towns and dioceses (and which therefore brings in money to local shops and businesses), is broadcast throughout the town via strategically-placed loudspeakers so that even those of us who are non-Christians, or just plain non-believers, can't avoid hearing this or that about Jesus.

No separation here!
This breach of what in other countries is called separation of church and state does not appear to bother anyone here in Bolsena, but no surprise that. Italians are used to the lack of such separation - you still find crucifixes in schools, police stations, hospitals and some museums. And if the Jews in the 18th century Roman ghetto warded off what they regarded as blasphemy when they were forced to attend mass by putting wax into their ears, residents and visitors to Bolsena have their own methods, since they went on happily eating ice cream, chatting  and sipping aperitivi while the Bishops in the cathedral (and a visiting Cardinal) droned on (and on, and on).

Trastevere. How to say it right. PDF Print E-mail
Aug 05, 2012 at 03:38 PM
There's something about English pronunciation that makes Anglo-Saxons mispronounce the name of the Roman neighbourhood I live in, even when they are trying their best. So here's a clue. Trastevere comes from the Latin word, Transtiberim which means, "across the Tiber (river). In Italian, the Tiber is called the Tevere and "Tras Tevere" thus means across the river. Tevere is pronounced Tey -Vey - Rey with the most emphasis on the FIRST syllable. When you say Trastevere, the accent is on the second syllable.

For those who don't remember, when Roma was originally settled, most Romans and their slaves lived around or near the Roman Forum. In the early decades this side of the river was largely unsettled, a place where wealthy Romans had their villas or farmlands but never a location for major ancient monuments Subsequently, it became home for thousands of Jews and "Syrians", that is other Middle and Near Easterners and when the emperor Augustus reformed the structure of the city it became the part of the Regio XIV, that is, the fourteenth urban district. Other early residents, included the early Christians who, if not martyred, were busy constructing the neighborhood's first basilicas, such as Santa Cecilia and Santa Maria in Trastevere.

By the second half of the third century, Trastevere had become a vast urban neighborhood, populated by workers, merchants and artisans. When in the 15th century Pope Sixtus IV built the bridge that took his name, Ponte Sisto, over the ruins of an earlier Roman bridge, it was to facilitate access to Saint Peter's - just a kilometre or so up the river - for the millions of pilgrims that were coming to Rome for the 1475 Holy Year. It is today a pedestrian bridge and one from which you get one of the best river views in Rome.

Centurions addio? PDF Print E-mail
Apr 06, 2012 at 02:32 PM

Image Tourists pose for pictures with them, for which they are usually asked to pay some amount of euros, others point them out with delight and snap away, offering a handful of change, and yet others, those who are a bit more familiar with Roman history, think it's pretty stupid to see a bunch of grown men (most of whom are probably unemployed) dressed up in rented or purchased centurions' costumes and wandering around the outskirts of the Coliseum and the Roman Forum. But if the Rome city government and the Lazio region have their way, the counterfei centurions may have to find other jobs.
Once upon a time, back in the mid-nineties, some of those dressing up today as Roman soldiers had permits as "street artists" but those authorizations have not been renewed since 2000 and the Roman police, not known for their commitment to the rule of law, have long tolerated the would-be warriors' presence around some of the capital's most important antiquities.
What's different now? Who knows? On March 26, the Region of Lazio, the region that surrounds the city of Rome, issued a decree forbidding people masquerading in historical costumes, street actors, and musicians from performing in this area. In addition, the city government is considering a ruling that would forbid, street actors, painters, acrobats, mimes, jugglers and other mountebanks from exhibitions in the city's piazzas for more than two hours at a time, only between ten a.m. and one p.m. and between 4 pm and 8 pm, and at at least ten meters distance from any church or place of worship. This seems pretty reasonable to me but let's see what happens. This city is well known for passing rules and then not instructing the people who work for them - for example the city police -- to enforce them.

Internet service in Italy PDF Print E-mail
Oct 24, 2011 at 02:54 PM

Sebastian Harrison, founder and president of Cellular Abroad, has shared with us some updated information about how travelers can make sure they get internet service in Italy and elsewhere. I am therefore reprinting an article he recently write that breaks down most of the solutions available for getting data (and cellular service) in Italy. One of the options is a service Cellular Abroad provides that was recently written about in the NY Times.

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Mobile Broadband for Italy

As we become increasingly dependent on the internet and features such as email communication, web browsing, Skype, video and music downloading and accessing social networks such as Facebook, for many, it is difficult if not impossible to imagine going to Italy and having no internet access, particularly if you use the internet for work or school. While some people may feel that a vacation is not a vacation if you need to check emails or be on the internet, conversely, there are those who wouldn't be able to or wouldn't be comfortable if they couldn't access the internet. I recently returned from a 2 month trip to Italy and, thanks to my iPad and Blackberry, my business didn't skip a beat. Although I travel to Italy at least once a year, it wasn't until this trip that I was able to find a cost effective and easy to use solution, and hence giving me the peace of mind to enjoy my trip even more. First, let's look at some other solutions.

The US Solution (aka Billshock solution)

Until recently, the only ways for travelers to access the internet in Italy was to book a hotel with internet access (costly and not always an option in remote locations) hunt down a wifi access at a cafe', or to go to an internet point. In some places, none of these options are available at any price. Several years ago, American cellular carriers such as T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T started offering data roaming through their smart phones or, if you wanted to use a computer, with an international data card that you could rent or purchase. Although checking your emails or logging into your Facebook account on your iPhone while enjoying a cup of coffee in beautiful Piazza Navona may sound intriguing, the harsh reality of the cost when you come home to the bill is anything but pretty. Perhaps that what they mean by ugly American! So what other choices are there for someone who needs internet access in Italy? Glad you asked. Let's explore what options are available for accesing the internet through your cell phone, laptop or other similar devices.

The, "When in Rome, do as the Romans" Solution

Mobile broadband, similar to what is offered in the US or Canada, is available in Italy to the Italians and has been for several years. Coverage is excellent as is speed, at least with most providers. If you use your North American internet-ready device in Italy, such as your iPhone or Blackberry, you will be roaming and, particularly with some devices that are always automatically updating, you can incur a phone bill in the thousands even with very little usage. The best solution is to find an alternative to roaming. Italians, as we do, have access to the internet or cell phones and they are certainly not paying thousands of dollars a month to do so. As the adage states, "when in Rome, do as the Romans." Read on to learn how to do this.

If you have an internet capable unlocked cell phone that works in Italy (must have the 900 and 1800 GSM bands), you can go to one of the three main cellular carriers, either TIM, Vodafone or Wind (there are others such as Tre but the coverage with is poor outside of the larger cities), and add data service to the SIM card. While rates and the activation procedure differ from carrier to carrier, the basic procedures are similar. First, you purchase an Italian SIM card, add enough call credit for the data service, and then get data service activated. The SIM card will work for text messaging and voice right out of the package but you will need to wait for the new data plan to be activated. While there are various plans available, on average, for about 25 Euros and perhaps a 5 Euro activation fee, you can get unlimited internet data access.

While this sounds simple enough, here are some caveats. First, when you purchase a SIM card at a cell phone store, you need to make sure that enough credit is added to activate the service. There is the price of the activation plus the actual service. Usually, in order to activate the service, you need to call customer service and as them to turn on the plan that you want - unlimited plans or others giving certain allotments of time. The main issue is that the service is not usually turned on immediately. It takes up to 24 hours for the service to start functioning. In the meantime, if you put the SIM card in your phone and start accessing data, while it will work, you will be using up the credit on your SIM card and then, when the carrier tries to activate the service, they won't be able to as your credit will be burned up. Without the plan being activated, you can easily go through 25 Euros of credit in minutes. So how do you know when the service is actually operational? You really don't. The best way to be sure is to wait 24 hours. Another caveat is that, while usually the service is "auto configurante" or "self installing," this is not always the case. While there is customer service available, I have found that it is often un-satisfactory. If you don't speak Italian, that is certainly another hurdle. Still, for many, this affordable approach is a very good option in order to obtain data service on your cell phone. By the way, since you also get voice, your service will be similar to what you may be used to in the US or Canada - both voice and data accessibility on your cell phone for a reasonable fee.

If you need service for your iPad, the procedure is virtually the same except for the fact that you will need a micro SIM card and, if you need to call customer service in order to activate the SIM card, you cannot do so from your iPad. The best scenario is that you have a friend with a cell phone with the same carrier or, your own unlocked GSM cell phone as well as a micro SIM adapter. I personally experienced this issue and it was several days before I was able to resolve it.

If you plan on bringing your lap top, you can also purchase a USB modem and get service. Italian carriers have bundled deals - a certain amount of data and a USB modem. You can expect to pay $100-$150 unless you commit to a yearly plan. Usually the set up instructions are in English as well as Italian so, with a bit of technical know-how, most people shouldn't have a problem setting this up.

The Simple Solution

Another solution, particularly for those that have other devices than a smartphone, iPad or PC, or just want something that works by just turning it on when you arrive in Italy is to rent or buy a wireless broadband router (a MiFi) that includes unlimited data. The MiFi is a cell phone sized device that creates your own personal hotspot. Since the MiFi is portable and has a battery life of several hours (or about 24 hours of standby), you can literally put the MiFi in your pocket, backpack or purse and, virtually anywhere in Italy, you can access the web with any device that has wifi connectivity. In addition, you can access as many as 5 different wifi capable devices simultaneously. For example, you can be on your Mac checking emails while someone in the next room is logging on to Facebook with their iPad and while yet someone else is Skyping. While the convenience of multiple users is certainly an important feature, at least equally as important is the savings factor. Once you have the proper MiFi device, the version that works in Europe including of course Italy, you can access unlimited data for about 25 Euros per month. This is a perfect solution for frequent travelers or study abroad students. For tourists or other travelers who plan on visiting Italy for several weeks or less, the easiest option is just to rent a MiFi that already has been set up with an unlimited data plan for Italy. Cellular Abroad rents and sells the device with the data enabled SIM card.

A Final Note

People's needs and circumstances for internet are as diverse as their travel plans. You might find that the café' directly underneath the apartment you are staying in has free wifi. Or, you may discover, as I did, that there isn't a café, hotel or internet point for miles away from where you are staying, which, if you only need to access your emails periodically, might adequate. The point is, don't just assume that your phone will work inexpensively in Italy as it does here or that you can easily go to a Starbucks and get free least not yet.

Tourists to pay surcharge on Rome hotels PDF Print E-mail
Jan 20, 2011 at 04:31 PM

Image As of January 1, tourists visiting Rome, foreign or Italian, are required to pay a surcharge on their hotel or bed and breakfast stays. The idea behind the new tax, which other Italian cities may soon be imitating, is to provide additional funds for city repairs and sanitation. But it is bound to make to make family travel a bit more onerous and, some tour operators say, could make Rome less competitive than some other European major cities such as Madrid and Barcelona. Add this to a recent hike in the tickets to state museums, and bargain-hunting is becoming increasingly difficult.

According to calculations by the Rome municipality, the surcharge - or the "contribution", as they prefer to call it - should bring between 70 and 80 million euros into city coffers, with 95% going to current expenditures and the rest to investment in tourism promotion.

Some 10 million tourists visit Rome every year, equal to number of tourists visiting Florence and Venice together. Last year was a banner year for Roman tourism - the best since 2007.

At the moment the tax (sorry, the contribution) amounts to:

three euros per night per person in three-star, four-star and five-star hotels.
two euros per person per night in smaller hotels and
one euro per person per night in camping structures.
Children under ten do not pay


Shame on Italy! PDF Print E-mail
Nov 07, 2010 at 09:29 PM
Image Neglect, in the end, will have its way and the scandalous neglect of the priceless ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii finally made itself felt this weekend with the collapse of the remains of the Domus (house)of the Gladiators. The Schola Armaturarum Juventis Pompeiani, its official name, was a military club where young gladiators trained and kept their weapons. It is located on Via dell'Abbondanza, the principle street of the city that was buried in the 79AD eruption of Vesuvius, so an alternative route has had to be planned for visitors to the site, one of the world's most popular, with something like 25 million tickets sold over the last year. The Domus's interior had not been accessible for some time, but at least it could be viewed from the outside.

Domus Aurea shut again PDF Print E-mail
Apr 01, 2010 at 03:25 PM
Collapse on the Oppian Hill

Those of you who have never seen the Domus Aurea are now out of luck (again) for what is bound to be a minimum of two years. I've been inside three times and it is really well worth the visit, especially if you have the imagination to conjure up in your mind what this basically empty structure must once have looked like. Now, the collapse of a portion of the hill covering of the magnificent palace built by the Emperor Nero after a fire (that legend says may have been set by him) burned much of ancient Rome in 64 A.D. has once again put the palace out of bounds for the lovers of ancient Rome. Clearly, the restoration work announced last June when the Domus Aurea (Golden House) was closed to visitors for the third time in as many years because of water leaks were too little and too late.

Officials said the cave in did not involve the Domus itself but an area of between 60 and 70 square meters covering one of the tunnels built by the Emperor Trajan in 106 A.D. . After Nero's murder in 68 A.D., his successor, Hadrian, sacked the palace and covered it over to build a Roman Bath on the Roman hill known as Colle Oppio. After Hadrian, Trajan did further work which involved a series of tunnels. But the effect is the same.

After being shut for decades because of structural problems, the Domus was reopened to visitors in 1999, closed again in 2005 because of water damage and reopened once more in January, 2006. More water damage caused another shut down in December 2008 that was supposed to last until 2011. European and Italian funds amounting to 3.2 million euros were allocated for restoration and water-proofing to protect against spillage through the hilltop above but before this was well underway, a large portion of the covering fell in on itself.

Domus Aurea interior

Originally decorated with copious gold leaf and other luxurious furnishings, the imperial residence was so big - 300 rooms, mostly, experts say, for parties and other receptions - that it reached the Palatine and Celian hills, reportedly covering 2.5 square kilometres of terrain. Its gardens were monumental, surrounding an artificial lake which in the place where the Coliseum was subsequently constructed. Nero had also commissioned a gigantic bronze state of himself, some 37 meters tall, dressed as the god Apollo, a Colossus that later gave its name to the massive amphitheatre built between 70 and 80 A.D by the Flavian Emperors Vespasian and Titus.

One of its most famous rooms is the Octagonal Hall which is said to have a mechanism that allowed a star-studded ceiling to revolve while rose petals and perfume fell on the emperor and his guests.

The Octagonal Room

Throughout the palace there were frescoes everywhere high up on the walls, either geometrical or others depicting monsters and other strange creatures. During the Renaissance, artists like Michelangelo used to gain access to these upper portions from caves or grottoes in the Oppian Hill . They don't seem to have had any idea that there was much, much more below and, in fact, the small paintings came to be known as grotteschi.


"Talking statue" gets gussied up PDF Print E-mail
Mar 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Image His real name is probably Menelaus (the Greek king of ancient times who was married to Helen before Paris kidnapped her and took her off to Troy) or possibly Ajax, a hero of the same Trojan War. But for centuries, the Romans have called this rather battered, third century BC statue, Pasquino after one of the city's first outspoken dissidents, some say a tailor who lived nearby, some a local school teacher, some say a Vatican insider, who signed that name to diatribes and satirical poems hung around the statue's neck that expressed criticism of the Pope, who until 1870 was, after all, also the city's temporal and non-democratic ruler.

Thus began a tradition, made more or less obsolete by modern newspapers, of Rome's "talking statues" of which Pasquino, now given some much needed spit and polish by stone restorers, was the most famous. It also is the source of the word, pasquinade, which means a satirical lampoon generally posted in a public place.
The story goes that the statue, dug up during street works near to what today is known as Palazzo Braschi, was erected in April, 1501 on the southwest side of what today is called Piazza Navona by Renaissance cardinal Oliviero Carafa, who must have thought he was being clever by establishing an annual ceremony in which the statue was draped in a toga to which the educated could attach epigrams in Latin.

 Much to the  Holy See's annoyance, the Roman populace, at least those among it who could write, began to use the statue as a sounding board for dissent. And whenever this got so irritating to the pontiff of the moment that he would declare the piazza out of bounds to passersby, dissidents would transfer their attentions to other "talking" statues such as Marforio, Madame Lucrezia, Il facchino, Il Babbuino and Abbot Luigi.

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