Traffic Cops Return to Rome’s Landmark Piazza

ROME – When, as I said, all roads lead to Rome, they cross at Piazza Venezia, the center of the Italian capital, which is monitored by a traffic officer on a pedestal who choreographs optimized circulation out of the automotive chaos.

For many Romans and tourists, these traffic guides are just as much a symbol of the Eternal City as the Colosseum or the Pantheon.

This could explain why the pedestal’s return (plus its traffic cop) this week after a year-long hiatus while paving the piazza sparked a media hype – even if, given the widespread lockdown that began this week, there was little traffic to direct Curb the upswing in coronavirus cases.

“At this difficult time, I think this was seen as a sign of a return to normalcy,” said Fabio Grillo, 53, who at 16 is the senior member of the team of four or five city police officers who drive traffic off the pedestal Manage Piazza Venezia.

In rain or sleet, or in the sultry summers of Rome, officials have been directing traffic from the base of Piazza Venezia near the mouth of Via del Corso, one of Rome’s main streets, for as long as anyone can remember. And the gestures that they make with their white-gloved hands are dutifully memorized by all Italian drivers for their driver tests. (Important note: two straight hands with the palms facing the driver correspond to a red light.)

“It has been compared to conducting an orchestra,” said Mr. Grillo.

In addition to regular traffic, Piazza Venezia is also an intersection that leads to the town hall, parliament, the Italian presidential palace and a national monument to which heads of state regularly pay homage – all of which contributes to the chaos at the hub.

“This piazza is the country’s aortic epicenter,” said Angelo Gallicchio, 62, who has been running a newspaper kiosk in the square since 1979. “Every remarkable person who comes to Rome has to pass through Piazza Venezia – it cannot be avoided.”

For many years Roman, the traffic police, was instructed by Mario Buffone, whose three decades on the pedestal – which made him one of the most famous characters in the city – were immortalized in a book. He retired in 2007. “He was an icon to us,” said Mr Grillo.

Giuseppe Battisti, 47, an officer who has stood on the podium for 12 years, said that all it takes to do the job well is passion and “a little elegance”. Although the traffic signals are anchored in the driver’s code of conduct, each agent “personalizes them,” he said.

Pierluigi Marchionne’s elegance on the podium (his gestures earned him a “He’s Bellissimo! It’s wonderful!” From a passerby on Thursday) – was probably what Woody Allen noticed when he was looking for locations in 2012 for his film “To Rome With Love ”was looking for. “After seeing Mr. Marchionne in action, he was so taken with the traffic officer that he rewrote the beginning of his script so he could cast it in the film,” Mr. Marchionne said.

Updated

March 20, 2021, 8:52 p.m. ET

“He saw me and then we did a screen test, but let’s say he already picked me for the role,” said Marchionne, 45, who took classes at the Actors Studio in New York and still occasionally directs it Traffic from the pedestal. He is also the artistic director of a production company that organizes an Italian film festival under the stage name Pierre Marchionne.

Working on Mr. Allen’s film “was a unique experience,” he said.

It is noteworthy that the Romans in particular should feel so friendly Someone paid to punish traffic violations known to be common in the Italian capital.

Until the 1970s, every January 6th, Epiphany, the Italians expressed their gratitude to the officers by covering the pedestals with gifts. The booty was then given to charity, said Mr Grillo.

This unlikely affection may have a lot to do with Alberto Sordi, an actor who frequently played traffic officers in films, particularly in the 1960 classic “Il Vigile”.

Sordi, who died in 2003, was also made a volunteer Roman traffic officer. Last year, the uniform and props from these films were displayed in a museum that opened in the actor’s house in Rome and is now closed due to the pandemic.

“Sordi made the traffic cops easier,” said Grillo, who can recite scenes from Sordi films word for word.

However, this affection was not without criticism. The image of the city police, which also includes traffic officials, has been tarnished in recent years by investigations into possible misconduct – for example, by closing one eye to illegal construction work and setbacks.

A history of the urban police force in Italy published on the website of a national association traces its origins to the guardians of a Roman temple in the 5th century BC. BC back. However, an educational film from the early 1950s from the Italian National Archives, Istituto Luce, instead traces The History of the Corps up to the 1st Century BC during the reign of Emperor Augustus (there’s a nice touch of a car that turns into a convertible) .

Today the Piazza Venezia has the only pedestal in the city. “It’s part of the architecture of the piazza,” said Mr Gallicchio, the kiosk owner.

At first the plinths were made of wood, and traffic officials carried them to intersections.

Once a solid cement base was installed in the piazza, which was lit by a spotlight on a nearby building at night when no officer was on duty, Gallicchio said.

The headlights didn’t help when “motorists kept pounding into it,” said Mr Grillo. In 2006, for example, it was replaced by a mechanical pedestal that rises from the cobblestones to welcome officials arriving for work.

Now that the work has been done in the piazza this year, officials say they are interested in finding a job they love again and hopefully get back into the focus of tourist cameras after the pandemic passes.

“Maybe we weren’t as famous as the Trevi Fountain, but we were a tourist attraction.” Said Mr Battisti with a smile. “I bet there are even photos of us in North Korea.”

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