Tourism authorities in Rome are being plagued by a unique problem, that of tourists, mainly Europeans, and including some British travellers, stealing cobblestones, marble mile markers and pieces of mosaic that are artefacts from ancient Rome, and taking them home with them as souvenirs.
Travellers are being apprehended at the customs desks of two Italian airports, Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino and Rome Ciampino, for trying to smuggle 2,000 year-old hardware and artefacts taken from the streets of Rome, said the security officials and Roman police.
Italian police chief, Antonio Del Greco, told the Daily Mail, ‘It’s a particularly unusual theft and at the same time it’s one that we are finding is on the increase and happening more and more often.
Those primarily responsible are northern Europeans who have simply picked up a loose cobblestone or piece of mosaic they have found while wandering around Rome.
They then put it in their luggage and take it home with them as a souvenir of their holiday – we have also found large milestones made from marble in suitcases that have been taken from the Appian Way.’
Umberto Broccoli, the superintendent of culture for Rome city council, said in an interview, ‘I should warn all tourists that the city’s rich heritage should not be touched. What these people do by stealing these items is show their ignorance.
I can understand the legend and splendour that is Rome but that does not mean bits of it should be stolen by all means tourists should take as many pictures as they like but they should not help themselves to cobblestones or other items even if they appear to be discarded. If they want a souvenir of their visit then they should buy something from a shop.’
Dark Rome, an Ireland-based tour operator that organises walks and tours in Italy, is offering new VIP Vatican and Private Sistine Chapel tours for visitors to Rome.
The company is offering its clients access to a number of the Vatican’s special sites, escorted by a Vatican official, during a three-hour trip. In addition, Dark Rome is offering a special opportunity to visit the Sistine Chapel in a private, half-hour visit with a small group of people, prior to the chapel opening to the public.
The tour will also include access to certain locked rooms in the Vatican Museums, including the secret Niccoline Chapel, decorated with frescoes and gilded with gold, and the famous Bramante spiral staircase. The company is claiming that their tours will be along similar lines to the Vatican tours that are usually reserved for VIPs, world leaders and celebrities.
Dan Paulsberg, the company operations director, said, ‘We are proud to be the first company to offer this incredible tour of one of the world’s leading visitor attractions. In 2011, the Vatican Museums attracted around 5 million visitors, so our ‘skip-the-line’ access became a major benefit to travellers. Plus, since the Vatican is a living museum, the tour schedule and stops are ever changing and adapting, and visitors can repeat the tour with the possibility of enjoying other secret treasures.’
The three-hour tour is available on Monday and Saturday for the price of €220 per person, and includes an entrance ticket and the services of an expert guide.
Occupancy rates are up, a ‘hotel tax’ is looming on the horizon, and room prices are scheduled to increase once again. It’s a typical scene in Rome, and it’s one that’s becoming a frustrating reality for the thousands of tourists that arrive in the Italian capital daily. Rome is big, beautiful, and all priced outside the reach of many British travellers, particularly those searching for a budget tour.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Tourists to Rome have typically spent their daytime hours soaking in the same tired attractions – viewing the Colosseum, walking the city’s cathedrals, and moving from one aggressively priced restaurant to another. With the pesky budget out of the way, Rome isn’t the terrifying travel destination one might expect – it’s actually rather fun.
At least, that’s what community travel website WikiTravel suggests. The website suggests for budget travellers to move from one Monte Verde Vecchio bakery to another, enjoying the city’s cheap meals and student favourites. It also suggests cutting your hotel budget in half and opting for a small local hotel, ignoring the large facade of the looming international chains.
The suggestions, while slightly unappealing for older travellers, are a good idea. Europe’s cities are best explored with a light wallet and an appetite for adventure. Ignore the downtown hotels in place of a room in San Lorenzo – the extra walk to major attractions offers an opportunity to get entirely lose – one of the city’s greatest tourist experiences.
When spending becomes difficult, a change of strategy can eliminate problems. WikiTravel’s tactics certainly don’t make Rome worse, they merely change the side of Rome that visitors may see while on holiday. Given the city’s immense modern culture, that’s certainly not an unwelcome change.