A measure of the ancient glory that was Rome will be restored when some streets in the historic city center are ripped up to bare the archeological treasures that lie beneath.
The idea behind this bold plan is to create a huge pedestrian island between the Forum and the Capitoline Hill -- an area that ranks as one of the world's greatest treasure troves of a bygone civilization.
The short-term plan that will see whole streets disappear was recently approved by the city council. But powerful pressure groups are demanding an even more ambitious project: the destruction of the half-mile-long Way of the Imperial Forums to make Rome's archeological wonderland even bigger.
That scheme has the backing of such influential people as the culture minister, Oddo Biasini, and -- just as important -- the mayor of Rome himself, Luigi Petroselli.
Archeological treasures were shamelessly buried under asphalt to build a showplace road where Mussolini, the Fascist dictator, hoped to see eight million bayonets passing by during parades. There are untold marvels hidden beneath that street, say the experts. But the trouble is that as many as 4,000 cars an hour in this traffic-choked city pass along what has become one of Rome's most important streets.
Socialist alderman Tullio de Felice maintains that, "Technically it's possible. But we can't close it and rip up the roadway and pavement for the simple reason that there are no alternatives [for cars]."
A city council official told me that the task of returning a cluster of streets around the Forum to their pristine state will start almost immediately. "We have already earmarked $200,000 for the first phase of this exciting and extremely important work," he said. "Our plan is to tear up the modern asphalt along such streets as The Way of the Roman Forum and the Way of the Consolation to restore the original integrity to this world-famous archeological zone. We would break up the roads so visitors can see the ancient Roman paving underneath, and experts can excavate for more finds."
The glory that was Rome still brings tourists from all over the world to the Eternal City. Even as December neared I saw scores of camera-toting holiday-makers walking among the sun-dappled ruins. One contemplated the unique scene in a cross-legged yoga position.
Remains of temples are known to lie beneath the few streets that are to be wiped off the map soon, and demand mounts for The Way of the Imperial Forums -- mussolini called it The Way of the Empire -- and surrounding roads to be given the same treatment.
Professor Cairoli Giuliani, an expert on ancient Rome at the city's university, feels that "Mussolini's road should be eliminated from an extremely valid archeological viewpoint. Underneath it, we have the greatest archeological complex in the world. Even if it is now broken up into thousands of pieces, it should be brought to light. Apart from that, we still do not know how the various quarters of ancient Rome linked at the time. sWe'll find out if only we can dig under that damned road."
At the time work started on The Way of the Empire, critics described the project as the Fascist regime's most primitive and uncivilized project. Its inauguration took place on Oct. 28, 1932, and an archeologically rich area of 80,000 square yards was covered up.
Experts regarded the road as a cultural tragedy. As a first step toward its eventual destruction, the traffic flow along it will sone be curbed, or even banned from half its length. The same will happen around the Colosseum -- often called Rome's largest traffic island.
Culture Minister Biasini, who harbors far more sweeping plans, said: "I approve the city council's courageous and swift decisions. The money earmarked so far is not enough, though."