Why does the City of Rome open Monte Testaccio to volunteers and not professionals?

About the case of Monte Testaccio in Rome: guides have been asking for months for the municipality to open the site so that professionals can work there. But for now it has only been opened on an extraordinary basis to FAI volunteers.

During last weekend, when European Heritage Days 2020 were being celebrated, two initiatives attracted attention in Rome: on Saturday 26 the opening of Monte Testaccio and on Sunday 27 that of the Secret Gardens of Villa Borghese (postponed to another date due to bad weather). In the case of Monte Testaccio, however, the opening granted by the Capitoline Superintendence was not included in the initiatives for European Days. Both sites, from the municipality, were granted to FAI for a full day, with guided tours led by their volunteers. For both, FAI collected a “donation” from each visitor in advance, a mandatory contribution at the time of booking.

Testaccio is one of many municipal sites that, before the COVID-19 outbreak, could be visited upon request, but have been completely closed since March. For most of these, the ban on access is fair and understandable, based on health regulations: they are underground, with little air exchange. The “Mount of Shards,” an entire hill, on the other hand, could have been reopened for visits long ago, but still three days ago cultural associations were told it was not possible.

The opening of these two sites on an exclusive basis thus sparked various controversies because it was refused to all associations even for one hour. City officials could defend themselves by replying that FAI had asked for the openings on an extraordinary basis. Here, we would like to clarify that we had done so as well, and for a reason we believe is even more important.

On June 3, a video conference was held between the Municipality of Rome, represented by Vice Mayor and Councillor for Culture Bergamo and Councillor for Tourism Cafarotti, and three professional associations of tour guides and tour leaders: AGTA represented by me, GTI and Agilo. On that occasion we asked the City Council for some support measures for guides, who are in a very serious labor crisis. Among the many proposals we made, there was one to encourage the resumption of activity, at no cost to the City: it was I who asked for the opening with priority procedures of sites generally closed to the public, so that guided tours with special openings could be held for several months that would attract residents and tourists. The vice mayor replied that it was not easy, but that they would think about it, talk to Zetema, etc. I had personally offered to cooperate (for free) in all phases. Monte Testaccio and the Secret Gardens are two of the sites that specifically we would have asked for.

On June 8, another meeting was held remotely: the hearing convened by the Tourism Commission, which was also attended by Dr. Marini Clarelli, who is head of the Capitoline Superintendency. Of the many proposals made in as many as two meetings, nothing was granted.

Visitatori al Monte Testaccio durante le Giornate Europee del Patrimonio 2020
Visitors to Monte Testaccio during European Heritage Days 2020.

Some 3,000 tour guides in Rome have been out of work since last March until next April: a year without pay, without layoffs, without anything at all. The luckiest guides are doing 2-4 tours a week. All of these people, plus the thousands more in the rest of Italy, are pouring into other sectors, from schools to any possible competition.

Yet city leaders think it is more fair to collaborate with those who “don’t make money on monuments and do it out of ”passion," rather than with professionals. Exactly the opposite of what a public administration should do.

It is not the municipality’s job to take on unemployment, however, the strategies put in place by the Tourism and Culture Departments should aim to implement the local economy. In deciding with whom to collaborate, one should be more careful: because it is not by favoring a “nonprofit” entity that one can think one is in the right and unassailable.

In recent years the City of Rome has paid part of the salaries with the tourist tax of the millions of tourists led by guides, not volunteers. The bars and restaurants in the historic center were open thanks to the much-hated tourists. And the societies that chose Rome for conventions and conferences did not do so in view of the myriad of small, insignificant and repetitive exhibitions spinning everywhere.

We wonder if it is normal for the special opening of Monte Testaccio:

- That the City Council prefers an entity from which it gets nothing. We would have left the ticket revenue to the City of Rome, as a rule.

- That the Municipality’s tickets (the free ones, since the Municipality did not collect anything, but which as a rule are detached anyway) were not given.

- That temperature control was delegated to private individuals: we understand that in public monuments, including municipal ones, temperature control is the responsibility of the staff in charge. Interesting that FAI volunteers enjoyed such an exception.

- That they were also allowed 75 people per shift, while in the pre-Covid era the limit was30: on Saturday there were simultaneously 5 groups of 10-15 people each, at 5 different points, but all within the archaeological area. The only strange case in Rome where spacing rules resulted in doubling instead of halving the numbers.

- That the staggered entry rules(every 20 minutes minimum) expected at these monuments were not respected.

On Saturday the impression was that the municipality had completely delegated the management of the site to a private entity.

Such remarks may seem meaningless only to those who do not work in tourism in Rome. There are very few tourists here, but if some of them think of indulging in a guided tour of a municipal museum, there are so many rules and restrictions that it is better to dissuade them and take them to the Colosseum or the Vatican.

Here, in Rome, after the virus and the economic crisis, we are dying of rules. Towards the FAI, however, the Capitoline Superintendence has been helpful and flexible: volunteers have been opened closed places and allowed to carry out their visits without hindrance. We ask that this common sense be applied to everyone, including those who would like to work in monuments for a living. And that an account be given, before and after, of the use of municipal monuments. We were told that the right to work is enshrined in the Constitution: either we have an outdated edition, or the representatives and officials of Roma Capitale had better reread a few articles.

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