The Fiat vs. the Forum

The chief monuments of ancient Rome line the Via dei Fori Imperiali.

Mussolini's grand Via dei Fori Imperiali, central Rome's would-be grand Archaeological Park

The entire area I often refer to as "Downtown Ancient Rome"—the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Imperial Fori, and Markets of Trajan—is one of Rome's most important and contentious archaeological zones.

In the 1920s, Mussolini ordered much of the district hastily excavated. Then he had the archaeologists restore some of it, but reburied the rest in order to lay the fat boulevard Via de Fori Imperiali right down the middle of it for showy military parades.

This was all part of the dictator's overt campaign to visually and symbolically link the glory of Imperial Rome with his own megalomaniacal idea of a new, Fascist empire.

Parades could go from the Colosseum, past the Roman and Imperial Fori, and end at Piazza Venezia, where the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument celebrated the new country of Italy and, more importantly, Mussolini gave crowd-rousing speeches from his office in the Palazzo Venezia.

For the next nine decades, Via dei Fori Imperiali remained a major traffic artery, playing a vital role in the city’s infrastructure and a seemingly insurmounted obstacle to plans to create a vast, single archaeological park out of the entire area.

In 1998 they began excavating even more of the area under what has been a triangular bit of greensward between the boulevard and the Imperial Fori–hugging Via Alessandrina.

Opening the Markets of Trajan to the public is but the first step in a scheme to eventually link of as much of the area as possible. The plan settled upon for now calls for Via dei Fori Imperiali to slowly become a raised viaduct as archaeologists excavate down all around it, punching a series of tunnels under the road, allowing visitors to wander from one side to the other.

This proposal is close to the hearts of archaeologists—not to mention much of Rome's tourism authorities and industry.

Finally, in August of 2013 the mayor of Rome finally made good on a long-held promise to close Via dei Fori Imperiali to private vehicle traffic (though buses and taxis can still use it). They had previously done this only on Sundays, making it great for strolling and biking.

They'll still need to deal with the long-term traffic-associated problems of pollution and dangerous vibrations, but it looks as if the dream of an archaeological park may not be impossible after all.

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Via dei Fori Imperiali

Via dei Fori Imperiali (from Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Colosseo)


Bus: 60, 75, 117, 53, 80, 85, 87, 175, 186, 271, 571, 810, N2
Metro: Colosseo (B)
Hop-on/hop-off: Piazza Venezia or Colosseo


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