Apr 7, 2008

Stripping Trajan's Forum

Trajan's forum was built by the order of its namesake after the conquest (and the pillaging which ensued) of Dacia, which ruled parts of present day Romania and Moldova. The forum opened in 112 AD, and Trajan's column was inaugurated a year later. Parts of the market and Trajan's column remain.

However yesterday archaeologists in Rome said the Forum had been stripped of all the statue fragments and amphorae shards. An Italian reporter also carried away boxes of ancient artifacts without being challenged. Malcolm Moore has more in today's Telegraph:

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...

"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."

Recently the Italian authorities announced the recovery of 1.000 objects from Trajan's Villa which had been stolen in 2002. Even policing known sites, in the middle of a city is difficult. The protest really points out the difficulty in this kind of heritage tourism. It brings tremendous economic benefits, but does have negative consequence, including disturbing sensitive areas, and also this kind of petty looting and taking. I'm not sure if the answer to this problem is more security, though that would certainly help. Perhaps what is needed is more public education about why this kind of taking is destructive, and damages these ancient monuments.

I wonder if perhaps these protests are too quick to blame foreign tourists. It seems possible Italians may want a piece of the forum as well.
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