With the number of tourists in Rome down by 5 per cent this summer — thanks to the credit crunch and the strong euro — the city fathers have come up with a scheme to bring back the crowds: a Disneyland-style theme park depicting life in Ancient Rome, complete with gladiators and Julius Caesar.
It might be thought that Rome already has enough genuine marvels to offer, from the Colosseum, the Forum and the Pantheon to St Peter’s and countless Renaissance palaces and Baroque churches. But Nazzereno Sacchi, the head of the Roman traders’ association, said that 2008 was proving a “black year” for tourism, and that thousands of waiters, cooks and hotel staff were having to be laid off.
In response, the new right-of-centre Rome administration plans to build the Ancient Rome theme park on a site of 400-500 hectares (988-1,235 acres), yet to be chosen. Mauro Cutrufo, the deputy mayor, said: “Our model is EuroDisney in Paris.” The aim was to have the “family friendly entertainment park” open for customers within three to four years, he said.
Instead of Pirates of the Caribbean, visitors would be offered rides through a replica of the Colosseum, where they could watch gladiators fighting each other or wild animals, as the Emperor looked on. The park would offer attractions based on life both in republican Rome, ending with the murder of Julius Caesar and civil war, and the power and might of the Roman Empire.
Mr Cutrufo said that he was looking for private investment in the theme park to the tune of €700-€800 million (£555 million£635 million), and calculated that it would bring an extra three million people a year to the Eternal City. A feasibility study would be completed next month.
Giuseppe Roscioli, head of Federal-berghi, the Italian hoteliers’ association, said that he backed the idea, provided that it was accompanied by other measures, such as the expansion and upgrading of airport facilities in the Lazio region.
Claudio Mancini, head of tourism for the Lazio region — which is controlled by the Centre Left — was sceptical. He said that Lazio was using its promotion budget of €1 million to target not only the United States and Europe but also the growing number of visitors to Italy from China, Russia, Japan, Eastern Europe and the Arab world. But a Disney-style theme park was incompatible with Rome’s character and urban preservation plan.
“I say no to Americanisation,” Mr Mancini said. There were, in any case, considerable planning regulation hurdles to overcome, since “500 hectares is no small amount of land”.
The omens from previous schemes are not auspicious. Plans were mooted to transform the set of the television drama series Rome — which boasted 20,000sq metres (215,000sq ft) of streets, squares, temples and shops in Ancient Roman style — into a theme park, but a destructive fire a year ago at the Cinecittà film studios appears to have put paid to the idea.
Ten years ago a plan was announced for an Ancient Rome theme park called Roma Vetus near Orvieto, 50 miles north of the capital, with two-thirds scale reproductions of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Baths of Caracalla and the Pan theon. Originally due for completion by 2000, the park has yet to be constructed.
There are still some news reports kicking around about Roma Vetus ... here ... and here ... Variety's coverage from that time drops some more names ...