Rome Travel Guide

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Friday, December 14, 2012

The Asphalt Jungle: Rome's Sidewalks

Rome has lousy sidewalks.  Yes, sidewalks. 

Americans may be shocked to learn that sidewalks are not the same world wide (as if RST could claim familiarity with the world's sidewalks).  There are places--and Rome is one of them--where those familiar concrete rectangles, placed one after the other--do not exist.

A sidewalk of sampietrini, on viale Trastevere
There are some handsome sidewalks in Rome.   Here and there, especially in or near the city center, one finds sidewalks fashioned of handsome modern paving blocks, others of sampietrini.  The one at the right is lovely, but the stones can come loose, leading to expensive repairs (or no repairs) [see photo at end].

Piazza Vittorio
Under its porticos, Piazza Vittorio (left) has a colorful sidewalk in the terrazzo style. 

But by and large, the preferred sidewalk material in the Eternal City is anything but eternal: it is asphalt.  Asphalt makes some sense as a paving material for the city's streets; it is smoother and provides better traction than the lovely but impractical sampietrini that fill so many roadways, and scooter riders can now enjoy a less bumpy, safer, and more predictable ride on--for example--large sections of the Lungotevere, the city's main north-south artery.  So streets are one thing. 

Monteverde Vecchio.  A dog's world.  They are all wealthy.
And sidewalks another.  And surprisingly, the city's sidewalks are mostly asphalt.  Even in elegant neighborhoods, like Monteverde Vecchio, where an average condominium sells for a million dollars.

We don't know why this is so.  Perhaps in Rome the difference between the cost of asphalt and the cost of cement is substantial, or larger than elsewhere.  Perhaps, in a city where many prefer to walk in the streets, sidewalks are an understandable afterthought.  Perhaps the asphalt sidewalk is just another sign of how little Italians care for, or take responsibility for, anything beyond their own homes and apartments.    

There is one advantage to asphalt.  The dark, undivided surface is good to write on, and Rome's bards have taken advantage, letting the sidewalks speak of Giovanni's obsession with Maria, of Massimo's with Chiara, of Vittorio's with Frederika, and so on.

Otherwise, the asphalt sidewalks are a failure.  They are hard to clean (not that Romans are out there scrubbing away).  See right.

Compared to cement, they are hardly level even when new.   The thin layer of asphalt breaks up into pieces and holes.  Ugliness abounds.  Dangers loom. 

 But it is more than that.  There is something dispiriting, degrading, even disgraceful, about an asphalt sidewalk.  That would be true in Peoria, but it is especially true in Rome, where the elegance of the past is everywhere. 

Rome deserves better.

Sidewalks of sampietrini can be handsome, and they have
historical resonance, but they are hardly indestructible. 

1 comment:

pleasesubmitawritingsample said...

I completely agree. It's possible that it's a way for them to keep the city "ancient". In Trastevere, it adds to the rustic appeal of the small walkways, but on busy and crowded streets it's a disaster waiting to happen. Let's hope that in between coffee breaks someone decides to do something about this.