Even as restorers scrape centuries of grime from the Colosseum, Rome’s authorities are planning a ground level clean up by cracking down on the costumed legionnaires and centurions who pose for photos with tourists before demanding cash with menaces.
The motley crew of faux-soldiers and gladiators from the ancient world who operate around Italy’s top monument appear more Carry on Cleo than Antony and Cleopatra. But that does not stop them pocketing upwards of €400-a-day from intimidated visitors.
Some of the greedier legionnaires make up to €12,000 a month, which sounds extraordinary, but adds up, given they are said to pose for photos 10 times a day, on average – and often demand €50 or more a time.
Commissioner Francesco Paolo Tronca, who is temporarily in charge of the capital following the ousting of Mayor Ignazio Marino, has said he wants the tawdry spectacle to end. A spokesman for the city’s town hall told Il Messaggero the centurions’ activity was “to all practical purposes illegal”. The Commissioner’s office will still have to work on specific legislation, however, to make it realistic to stop them from preying on tourists across the centre, from the Colosseum to the Pantheon via Piazza Venezia. No one was available to explain what form this ordinance might take, when The Independent called.
Sporadic attempts in the past few years to clear the unlicensed Roman soldiers, with police often claiming they are working without proper permits, have had little effect.
The “street artists” as they call themselves, might not look convincing with their cheap sandals and helmets topped with feather boas rather than plumes of horse hair, they organise themselves with military precision, however.
The 18 or so operating around the Colosseum do so in set positions in the hope of snaring as many gullible visitors as possible from 9am onwards. The strategy appears successful, with some apparently making enough money to wander off by 2pm.
Tourists are first lulled into a false sense of security by smiles and promises that money is not being sought. Once photos are taken, though, the actors make it clear that they do expect money – and not just a handful of coins.
Two American tourists recently complained they were forced to hand over money. In another incident a Romanian TV crew were told to pay €100 rather than the agreed sum of €30 and then threatened.
After shouting obscenities, one of the offending “centurions” lifted up his costume to expose himself.
“I hope they stop being centurions and become galley slaves,” said Rome councillor Stefano Esposito after the incident with the TV crew.
“It’s disgusting... every time these incidents happen Rome get’s slammed on front pages around the world.”
Shaken tourists are certainly not amused. But if the city finally cracks the whip, Rome’s centurions, won’t be laughing for much longer, either.
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