Can the Roman Forum get any worse?
The last time I went to the Roman Forum was two years or so ago when I went for an intensive two days of Forum study with a friend who was writing a book (now out) on the place for my "Wonders of the World" series.
David’s main point (for the friend was David Watkin) was that the archaeological site itself was pretty disappointing – too many archaeological holes, too much concern with the ancient Roman past at the expense of the glorious renaissance and later history of the Forum (like all those wonderful churches which line it, for example).
Yesterday, I went back for the first time since then, and must report that the experience is yet worse than it was two years ago.
For a start, it used to be free – which was some mitigation for the frankly disappointing state of the centre of the Roman empire. Now , since early 2008, you have had to buy a ticket -- full price of 12 euros giving entrance to the Palatine, Colosseum and Forum combined (no-one would have the nerve to charge for the Forum alone).
This makes a spur of the moment visit in the summer almost out of the question – or, at least, a long business. If you plan to go, BOOK ONLINE. The queue for tickets at the Colosseum on Friday was about an hour long. We opted for slightly shorter queue at the Palatine entrance, which was looking like 45 minutes. (I have to confess – and in retrospect I am very ashamed of myself – that I did a quick bit of queue jumping, and bought the ticket within 10 minutes or so.)
But even worse, the need to charge for entrance has turned the Forum into a closely guarded fortress. One advantage of the old free regime was that you could let people in and out wherever there was a convenient gate. Now you can only get in at two points (on the Via dei Fori Imperiali and by way of the Palatine, more than 200 yards or so up the Via San Gregorio). So no more walking in from the Colosseum up to the Arch of Titus, though you can exit that way – and you can also exit up by the Arch of Septimius Severus at the other end of the Forum. But that is all. I wanted to go out on the south side, to a favourite watering hole. But that is absolutely vietato these days. (This map might help orientate you on all this.)
Has the ticket revenue brought any improvements? Not likely. There are some truly ghastly modern sculptures decorating the site (as you see in the picture) – and some new signposts. We got a little excited seeing a pointer to “S Maria Antiqua”, but was the church open? Of course not.
I know that the problems of managing Rome’s archaeological past are immense. But the Forum is Italy’s equivalent of England’s Stonehenge. In other words, a disgrace.
What would I do? Well I would go for the Watkin solution. I would make it free again, so you could come and go relatively at will. And I would open up the churches round about, so that you could access them from the forum (as was originally intended) and they became part of it again – not severely cordoned off. Encourage visitors to see the churches as well as the archaeological holes, and make the forum a bit of mixed up urban space again.