How not to celebrate a worldwide history and archaeology event. This is the lesson tourism operators can draw from Rome’s so called celebrations for the bimillenary of Augustus’s death of August 19.
Too bad the first measures to properly hail this big event were taken eight years ago, in 2006. What did we get? Basically nothing. A total lack of coordination, cooperation among the relevant public units at local and national level. They didn’t work as a system. Each of them simply pursued its own dismal goals without taking into account the general interest.
WHAT WAS THE PLAN?
They turned the lights on in Ara Pacis from 9 pm to midnight on August 19, nothing new really. And they opened the Mausoleum, which was also already done in the past. With just a little difference. Yesterday the Mausoleum was only open to 90 people, whereas FAI, Italy’s National Trust, had thousands visiting it on March 22, less than five months ago. Furthermore, the lucky August visitors also enjoyed a flood.
Since April 21 there’s a night show in the Forum of Augustus, but this same forum was open for day visits in March, thanks to FAI again.
There were some tours in Augustus-related landmarks of Rome in June but they were not well communicated and anyway involved extremely limited numbers of people.
A big exhibition about Augustus took place at Scuderie del Quirinale but it was a bit too early, in October 2013.
Another exhibition about Augustus starts 5 weeks after Augustus 19 and one year after the previous one at Scuderie del Quirinale. Is there any planning, programming in all this? Ok, for Romans it doesn’t make any difference if we have events in various moments of the year, but for a tourist it would have been so much better to have them all concentrated in 2-3 months. Summer in Rome is not particularly rich of exhibitions and historical/archaeological events, it would have therefore been perfect a July-to-September concentration of Augustus-related happenings, with the highlight on August 19. We have countless museums of ancient Roman Archaeology, why didn’t each of it make a special exhibit with its own items of Augustus’s time, or why didn’t each of them host an exhibit about a particular aspect of Augustus’s life/achievements? And maybe the Vatican Museums could have also contributed to such a celebration. It would have been a very nice urban itinerary in a period of the year where there is no competition from the Fall-to-Spring big exhibits.
Italy itinerary – If Rome disappointed you in offering much less than it should have, here are a few tips about an Augustus itinerary in the rest of the country. Starting from Aosta, which was actually founded by Augustus, in the very north-western corner of the country and continuing in Turin, Milan, Verona, Brescia, to finish in Rimini and Fano both boasting two monumental arches dedicated to him. A west-to-east trip in Northern Italy after the glory and the deeds of the founder of the Roman Empire.
Summer inactivity was probably an excuse to do so little. But in times of economic crisis and high unemployment there should be no justification to cross your arms and sit idle. Furthermore, this summer was not hot at all and would have provided the perfect climatic conditions for a big mid-August anniversary happening.
Luckily for the city of Rome and the tourism sector the number of visitors continues to go up, despite the international economic crisis. In July they rose by 6% compared with the same month of last year. But the moment when visitors will start falling, (it will happen sooner or later) no one in this city will have a clue about what to do to revert the negative trend as they will only be used to a positive one that requires very little fixing.
NO MUSSOLINI, PLEASE!
Some compared the 1937 bimillenary anniversary of Augustus’s birthday with our 2014 celebrations. They’re wrong: this comparison doesn’t make any sense. In 1937, Italy was under Mussolini, a dictator who tried to legitimise his rule presenting it as the continuation of ancient Rome, and also founded an “Empire” with the conquest of Ethiopia in 1936. He drew 1 million people to Rome for Augustus’s celebrations, these contemporary commentators say, ignoring or pretending to ignore what fascist propaganda entailed for the ordinary life of Italians.
Anyway, going back to our August 19 anniversary, how many cities in the world can nowadays celebrate the bimillenary of a worldwide known leader? Maybe a handful in China, India and Egypt. But none of these countries represents a valid model for history/archaeology tourism. Unfortunately, neither Italy/Rome has proved to be a good one.