Ancient hill 'desecrated' by car park

Click to follow

Amid a crescendo of protest, the city of Rome is about to start building a seven-storey underground car park beneath one of the city centre's prettiest and most strategically located parks.

La Terrazza del Pincio is laid out on the summit of the steep hill overlooking Piazza del Popolo, the architectural masterpiece at the top of Via del Corso, Rome's ancient main street. Both the park and the piazza below it were transformed by the architect Giuseppe Valadier in the 19th century after the French government then in control of the city noted the absence of well laid-out walks in the centre. The avenues are lined with oaks and pines and dotted with busts of eminent ancient Romans, and enjoy fabulous views across the city centre.

But the park is about to disappear behind high fences and, for several years, will be a building site. When the public is allowed back, the authorities claim it will be unchanged from before, but instead of earth and remains of the ancient city it will house seven floors of parking.

Believing it is still not too late, Italia Nostra, (Our Italy), an association dedicated to protecting Italy's heritage, this week made an appeal for a suspension of the work and a re-examination of the whole project.

The association claims that the car park is being imposed on the city without proper consultation, without a thorough review of the archeological remains buried within the hill, and at the risk of damaging a vital acquifer that runs through it. It also claims it is unnecessary. As any visitor to Rome knows, many of the narrow cobbled lanes of the city are clogged with cars around the clock, despite parking restrictions that are often only theoretical. The Pincio scheme will be the third huge underground car park meant to address this congestion yet the car park under the Villa Borghese nearby is regularly half empty, the association claims.

The suspicion of some critics is that the true motivation for building a third such facility is to generate hefty construction contracts without the controversy that visible schemes attract.

Italians are conspicuously more attached to their cars than other Europeans. Recent figures published by Eurobarometer show that there are 670 cars per 1,000 Italians, a figure beaten only by the US. In Rome it is even higher, at more than 900 cars per 1,000 citizens.

Adrian Labucci, president of the Rome branch of Italia Nostra, said: "Car parks and monuments are incompatible. This is cultural vandalism."

The city authorities say that the project will provide residential car parking for those living in central streets that are soon to be pedestrianised, and that all relevant officials backed the plan. But at the protest meeting letters were read out indicating that only outline consent had been given.