* Traffic to be blocked off around ancient sites
* Decision sparks anger from motorists, local businesses
* Bicycle-riding mayor wants to protect ancient treasures
By Catherine Hornby and James Mackenzie
ROME, Aug 1 Less than two months in office, the
mayor of Rome is promising a minor revolution in the Italian
capital and risking the ire of local motorists by closing the
area around the ancient imperial forum complex to traffic.
The roads near the forum and the nearby Colosseum will be
shut down on Saturday night for a special series of celebrations
before being cut off permanently, starting from 5.30 a.m the
The decision has aroused heated opposition from residents
and motorists who fear chaos from traffic diversions, but
newly-elected mayor Ignazio Marino says Rome's incomparable but
often neglected archaeological treasures go beyond local
"I don't want it to be a matter for the district of Monti,"
the 58-year-old surgeon-turned politician said this week,
referring to the city zone where the site is located. "I want it
to be a matter for the whole world."
The mighty Colosseum and the so-called "fori imperiali", a
series of overlapping public squares built over more than 100
years by successive Roman emperors, are among the city's most
spectacular sites, drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists
But the area has long been divided by a wide thoroughfare
constructed under former fascist dictator Benito Mussolini which
cuts straight through the ancient ruins and forms a major road
artery in a city that strains to keep its traffic under control.
It is a familiar issue in Rome, where infrastructure
projects including the expansion of the underground metro system
have long been held up by the need to protect the archaeological
treasures that lie everywhere beneath the city streets.
But Marino, a top liver transplant specialist with long
experience of working in the United States, compares Rome with
other European capitals such as Paris, Berlin or London and says
it has to do more with its rich artistic and cultural heritage.
With Rome emptied of much of its normal traffic as it
swelters in the heat of the August summer holiday, the full
impact of the decision may not be felt immediately but already
opposition is growing.
"This will just create more chaos," said Cinizia Perugini,
who runs a newsstand in the area. "My customers are angry, they
don't know how they will reach me anymore, and I don't even know
how I will get to work," she said.
The ban will not stop all traffic around the sites. Buses,
taxis, bicycles and emergency vehicles will still be allowed,
although at reduced speeds, and there has been little detail
about other changes to make life easier for pedestrians.
Marino, nicknamed "Rocky" by his university colleagues in
Pittsburgh, has already established a distinctive profile in
Rome by riding to appointments on a bicycle and he says he
expects opposition to his plans.
Many residents complain that the decision was rushed through
just weeks after the June election, which brought Marino to his
office on the Campidoglio hill overlooking the forum.
Elvira Micieli, who owns a clothes shop on a road where
traffic will be redirected, said she was worried about increased
smog and new restrictions on parking which she feared would hit
"The mayor should have spoken to residents and companies in
the area first, then organised things such as extra parking
space and better public transport," she said, adding that she
had signed a petition opposing the plan.
"He can't just wake up one day and change everything so
drastically, we don't live in a dictatorship," she said.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)