In a country where socialism has always been popular — hello, Mussolini! — and tax avoidance is a national sport, it’s hardly any wonder that Rome, like so much of Mediterranean Europe, is falling apart:
It may boast the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the glories that were ancient Rome, but the city is now in chronic decline, its business leaders and inhabitants have warned. The Eternal City is facing crisis, with its administration engulfed in corruption scandals and debt, its roads scarred by pot-holes, the main airport partially closed and a growing immigration crisis.
For generations, the Italian capital has rested on past glories rather than built on them but now its multiple problems have come to a head.
Drivers on the metro system are on a go-slow in a protest over pay and conditions, hundreds of flights into Fiumicino, the main airport, have been cancelled due to a fire that broke out in a terminal back in May, and temperatures have soared this week to over 100F (37.7C), making daily life even more hellish than normal. “Rome is on the verge of collapse,” Giancarlo Cremonesi, the president of the Rome Chamber of Commerce, told Reuters. “It is unacceptable that a major city which calls itself developed can find itself in such a state of decay.”
Rome’s problem, like so many other places in Europe, is that it has essentially become a theme park, heavily dependent on tourism but contributing next to nothing to the sum total of human knowledge or prosperity these days. Far too many Europeans are content to snooze the rest of their lives and cultures away; meanwhile, beasts like ISIS are licking their chops. Scenes from the ruins of Christian civilization:
A survey by the European Commission two years ago placed Rome last out of 28 EU capitals in a ranking for the efficiency of city services. Despite great food, superb coffee and an enviable climate, on an index of quality of life, the capital came second to last, with Athens at the bottom. Its Renaissance churches, cobbled streets and vibrant piazzas still wow tourists from around the world, but beyond the historic centre, the city is a mess and life is a struggle for locals.
Everything has been exacerbated by the effects of Italy’s longest recession since the Second World War, with homeless people on the street and youth unemployment over 40 per cent. Broken-down motor scooters and bicycles are dumped on pavements, kerbs are overgrown with grass and shrubs, and there is litter everywhere. Along the Tiber River, Romany gypsies have set up shanty villages, their shacks hidden from view by tall thickets of cane grass. A lack of bins mean that locals and visitors alike drop their rubbish on the ground, while a much-hyped bike sharing scheme which was launched a few years ago has broken down entirely, the bicycles either damaged or stolen.
“It has got a lot worse in the last few years,” Costanza Cagni, who has lived in the city since 2000, told The Telegraph. “Everybody moans but nobody offers any solutions. The quality of life has really gone down. I’m sorry to say it, but I just want to leave Rome and move somewhere else.”
And you-know-who will be happy to move into the space you just vacated.