Rome’s cultural elite write to Unesco over ‘mortifying’ scenes of rubbish

Culture sector workers, artists, professors and environmentalists living in Rome’s historic centre have urged Unesco to remind the city’s council of its duty to protect the world heritage site as they decried “mortifying” scenes of rubbish and other signs of decay.

In a letter addressed to Lazare Eloundou Assomo, the chief of Unesco’s world heritage centre, and signed by 150 people, the group said its complaints to authorities in the Italian capital had been ignored.

Rome’s entire historic centre, which boasts treasures including the Trevi fountain, Colosseum and Spanish Steps, was inscribed on the coveted world heritage list in 1980. However, various Rome administrations have struggled to keep it clean, with the more recent “invasion” of bar and restaurant tables on the city’s cobbled streets and electric scooters adding to the woes.

The group argued that the council was shirking its responsibility to conserve the site, appealing to Unesco to push for “a turnaround”.

“Between the weeds that are not cut, the rubbish on the streets and the noise, the general scene is mortifying,” the group wrote in the letter.

The signatories of the letter recalled a time when the districts of Rome’s centre were a pleasant place to live. Chiara Rapaccini, an artist and the widow of the film director Mario Monicelli, told Corriere della Sera: “We lived in Monti since 1988 and made a documentary about the district’s beauty. The decay of Monti hurts me, and it would have hurt Mario too.”

Myriam D’Andrea, a director at Ispra, the environmental agency, took issue with the electric scooters, which are often used and parked with abandon. “They have invaded the city in a completely wild way,” she said. On Sunday, two American tourists were each fined €400 for throwing an electric scooter down the Spanish Steps. A visitor from Saudi Arabia recently drove a Maserati down the 17th-century staircase.

But the problems are not confined to the centre – overflowing bins, graffiti and unkempt parks are common sights across Rome. Wild boars are often seen walking down roads or searching for food in bins in the city’s northern districts.

The mayor of Rome, Roberto Gualtieri, who was elected last October, failed in his promise to give the city an “extraordinary clean-up” by Christmas, but now says 655 more rubbish collectors are being hired, with the first 155 due to start by the end of June. The council has also approved the creation of a committee to work on “guaranteeing decorum”.