23 April 2006

Rome: Ara Pacis re-opens

After seven years closed to the public, one of Rome's most important ancient monuments re-opened on Friday (Rome' s official birthday). The Ara Pacis, Augustus's altar of peace, is now housed within a controversial new museum development. We're just glad the site is open again - it's the altar itself that's really important, not the setting. It's frustrating that Rome' s monuments vanish periodically under sheeting and scaffolding, often disappearing for years at a time. The Domus Aurea, Nero's golden house, has closed once more, but at least we can now visit the Ara Pacis.

Opening times are Tuesday - Sunday 9am-7pm and the museum costs €6.50 (free to EU under-18s and over-65s). The location is on Lungotevere al Augusta (Metro Flaminio), between the Tiber and the Mausoleum of Augustus.

Official Ara Pacis Museum website (in Italian).

13 April 2006

Berlusconi cries "Fraud!"; Mafia boss arrested

The elections are over in Italy but that hasn't stopped the insults and accusations. After a most unedifying campaign it looks as though Berlusconi will go, but he isn't planning to leave quietly. And as the richest man in the country, and with control of much of Italy's media, he certainly isn't going to disappear. He's been accused, charged and thrown out before but still bounced back.

From an outsider's perspective, Italy's politics are murky at best. Living in the country you get very little sense of a direct chain of command. Central government is made up of bickering coalitions (sometimes resorting to fisticuffs in parliament) and it isn't always easy to see its effect on everyday life. Authorities are manifold and usually suspect. With constant allegations of corruption and intimidation at every level, right down to local village councils, many Italians will just roll their eyes and give that shrug when you ask who controls their lives and their country. Maybe they're making dark suggestions, or maybe they're just as confused as everyone else.

The Times, meanwhile, suggests that another Italian news story may not be unconnected to the election results - see page 2 of their story How Godfather was betrayed by his need for clean pants . As the Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano is finally arrested, we're left, as usual, to reflect on the fact that these rare arrests generally take place in or close to the fugitive's own family home; that during their decades 'on the run' they seem to spend most of their time in their own village, with their families. Read Peter Robb's excellent Midnight in Sicily for great coverage of both the island, its crime and its relation to Italian politics.

4 April 2006

Gardens of Ninfa on TV

Gardens of Ninfa
Readers in the UK may be interested in watching The Curious House Guest at 8pm on Thursday 6th April. The BBC 2 programme is to feature the fantastic and hard-to-visit Gardens of Ninfa in Lazio, south of Rome. Usually the deferential presenter explores British country houses, but this week he'll be visiting these Italian gardens, and exploring the British influences which helped form them.