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Monday, July 25, 2005

What Fate Roman Stones?

Rome is caught between tradition and modernity; the famous basalt cobblestones that have lined the city streets since the 17th century may soon be replaced by smooth asphalt in all but a few piazzas and strictly pedestrian areas, according to a report by the Associated Press. This change in the historic landscape of the city has elicited mixed reactions from Romans—many feel a strong attachment to the historic cobblestones, which are a part of the city’s character, yet also recognize many of the problems they also cause.

The sampietrini, or “little stones of St. Peter’s,” are easily displaced, creating large potholes in the streets. Laying and repairing the stones is both an expensive and labor-intensive process, and the number of people trained to do so is rapidly diminishing, as well as the availability of the cobblestones themselves. Even more serious is the effect that the vibrations created by motor traffic passing over the stones have on the surrounding palaces, cathedrals, and monuments.

Maurizio Galletti, an official at Italy’s Ministry of Culture who is responsible for Rome's architectural heritage, said the vibrations had actually caused some small fissures in the frescoes of Rome’s grand Renaissance palaces. So Rome may be moving more toward the 21st century, but fear not, this tradition is not lost—the picturesque stones of Piazza Venezia, the large square in the heart of Rome, will be left in place. -- Cailin Birch

(Photo of Via Appia Antica courtesy of the Italian Tourist Board.)

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