Anger over plans to ‘Disneyfy’ the Colosseum

di Tom Kington

An international headhunt to find an archaeologist able to entice more tourists to the Colosseum, the Forum and Palatine Hill has prompted a furious reaction from critics who fear the sites will be “Disneyfied”.

The three sites, along with the Domus Aurea, Nero’s palace, will be turned over to the new manager by May as part of a government drive to shake up Italy’s dusty museums. Foreign talent has already been hired to run the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

“The Colosseum, the Forum and the Palatine are together the most important urban archaeological site in the world and we are aiming for a top candidate; someone who knows Rome, archaeology and management. We will also consider Italians, but international experience is preferred,” said Dario Franceschini, the culture minister. The salary will be about 150,000 euros.

The Colosseum already crams in 6.5 million visitors a year, with long queues forming outside even in the low season, but Mr Franceschini expects the new manager to push ahead with more crowd-pleasing features – starting with a plan to resurface the arena to once again host events, albeit of the musical not gladiatorial kind. The authorities have already recreated one of the wooden lifts which used to hoist wild animals into the arena from the basement below.

“The whole area has huge potential, from plans to keep the Forum lit and open until midnight to the new restaurant built in a 17th-century building on the Palatine Hill which will give 360-degree views of the whole area and have no equal in the world,” Mr Franceschini said.

New directors hired in 2015 at museums across Italy have been given new powers to brighten up the institutions, which were often plagued by poor presentation and odd opening hours. “We have the best collections in the world, but we are now making up for lost time with new cafes, social media presence and the welcome we give.”

That has caused an outcry from Italian experts who believe that giving big museums financial autonomy has meant less funding trickling down for smaller, less-visited sites and for vital research.

The hiring of a new manager for the Colosseum brought particularly fierce criticism. “This is a serious mistake which accelerates the commercialisation of our heritage,” said Tomaso Montanari, a historian. Adriano La Regina, the head of Italy’s National Institute of Archaeology, added: “You cannot run archaeological heritage focusing only on tourism.”

Mr Franceschini said he was pushing ahead anyway. “A real reform will always provoke protest,” he said.

The Times
January 13, 2017


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