Rome’s ancient monuments are so poorly guarded that tourists are taking away mementos of their visit to the Eternal City with impunity.
Archaeologists said yesterday that Trajan’s Forum, in the heart of the city’s classical ruins, had been stripped of all the fragments of statues and shards of amphorae that adorned the site until recently.
To highlight the problem, a reporter from Il Messaggero newspaper carried away large boxes full of ancient artefacts during the daytime without being challenged.
An archaeologist working at the site, who asked not to be named, said: “Everything has been taken from Trajan’s Forum. The close-circuit television cameras are pointless, and the gates are practically non-existent. Even a child could climb over them.
“The treasures of ancient Rome are very vulnerable, but there are lots of gaps in the security system of one of the most important archaeological areas in the world.” He added that he had often seen people in restricted areas, collecting keepsakes.
The newspaper blamed the 20 million tourists who pass through the city each year for the looting. “Who knows how many of these small fragments now adorn living rooms all over the world?” it said.
The forum was built in AD 112, followed by Trajan’s Column in the following year. The whole area is currently undergoing reconstruction, including the insertion of a raised walkway for tourists.
“This is an open-air museum,” said Eugenio La Rocca, the head of Rome’s cultural heritage authority.
“You have to bear in mind that we cannot cover every angle, especially since restoration work is going on. We cannot put bunkers of guards everywhere. If we did the whole of Rome would be a giant bunker.
“However, the area is closed off and the television monitoring system is connected to a cabin staffed by guards. It is also connected to the police.”
Mr La Rocca said the most valuable artefacts were fully catalogued and carefully stored away in warehouses.