Traffic Cops Return to Rome’s Landmark Piazza

ROME – If, as has been said, all roads lead to Rome, then they intersect at Piazza Venezia, the center of the Italian capital, watched by a traffic officer on a pedestal choreographed simplified traffic from car chaos.

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

This may explain why the return of the pedestal this week (plus the traffic policeman) after a long hiatus while the square was paved, started a media frenzy – even if there was little movement to direct given the extensive launched this week to contain an increase in coronavirus cases.

“In this difficult time, I think it was a sign that something was back to normal,” said Fabio Grillo, 53, who, with 16 years under his belt, is the senior member of a team of four or five municipal police officers. officers directing traffic from the Piazza Venezia pedestal.

In rain or sleet, or inflated by the suffocating summers of Rome, officers direct traffic from the Piazza Venezia pedestal near the mouth of the Via del Corso, one of Rome’s main streets, for as long as one can remember. And the gestures they make with their white gloves are something that all Italian motorists must remember for their driver tests. (Important note: Two hands straight out with palms facing the guides equals red light).

“It was compared to organizing an orchestra,” Mr Grillo said.

In addition to the normal traffic, Piazza Venezia is also a crossroads leading to the City Hall, the Parliament, the Presidential Palace of Italy and a national monument where visiting heads of state usually pay tribute – all contributing to the chaos in the center.

“This square is the aortic epicenter of the country,” said Angelo Galicio, 62, who has run a newsstand in the square since 1979. “Every note-taker coming to Rome has to go through Piazza Venezia – you can’t avoid it. “

For many years, the traffic policeman was commissioned by Mario Buffone, whose three decades on the podium – making him one of the city’s most recognizable figures – were immortalized in a book. He retired in 2007. “It was a picture for us,” Grillo said.

Giuseppe Battisti, 47, an officer who has been on the podium for 12 years, said all it takes to do the job well is passion and “little elegance”. Although traffic signs are included in the driver code of conduct, “each agent personalizes it,” he said.

Pierluigi Marchionne’s elegance on the podium (his gestures won him over “It’s bellissimo! It’s wonderful!” By a passerby on Thursday) – is probably what caught Woody Allen’s eye as he searched for locations for the 2012 film “To Rome With “After seeing Mr. Marchionne in action, he took him so much with the traffic officer that he rewrote the beginning of his script to cast him in the film,” said Marchionne.

UPDATED

March 21, 2021, 11:11 a.m. ET

“He saw me, and then we did a screen test, but let’s just say he had already opted for the role,” said Marchionne, 45, who has been taking classes at the actor’s studio in New York and still occasionally directs the movement from the pedestal. He is also the artistic director of a production company that organizes an Italian film festival with the stage name Pierre Marchionne.

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

It is remarkable that the Romans must have felt so friendly someone was paid to punish traffic violations, which are often known in the Italian capital.

Until the 1970s, every January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, the Italians would express their gratitude to the officers by covering the traffic pedestals with gifts. The looting was then carried out for charitable purposes, Mr Grillo said.

This incredible affection may have had a lot to do with Alberto Sordi, an actor who often played traffic officers in films, most notably in the 1960 classic “Il Vigile.”

Sordi, who died in 2003, was also appointed an honorary Roman traffic officer. Last year, the costume and props from these films appeared in a museum that opened at the actor’s house in Rome, now closed due to the pandemic.

“Because of Sordi, traffic cops have become simpler,” said Grillo, a symbol of Rome who can recite scenes from Sordi movies word for word.

However, this affection had no criticism. The image of the municipal police, in which traffic officers are involved, has been tarnished in recent years by investigations into possible offenses – such as turning a blind eye to illegal constructions and taking kicks.

A story of municipal police forces in Italy published on the website of a national union traces their origins to the guardians of a Roman temple in the 5th century BC. An educational film from the early 1950s by the Italian National Archive, Istituto Luce, however, traces the history of the body to the first century BC, during the reign of Emperor Augustus (there is a nice touch from a chariot leading to convertible).

Today, Piazza Venezia has the only pedestal left in the city. “It’s part of the architecture of the square,” said Gallicchio, the owner of the box.

Initially, the pedestals were made of wood, and traffic officers will transport them to intersections.

At one point, a fixed, concrete pedestal was erected in the square, illuminated by a spotlight in a nearby building at night when no officers were on duty, Gallicchio said.

The focus did not help as “motorists continued to hit it,” Mr Grillo said. So in 2006 it was replaced with a mechanical pedestal rising from the cobblestones to welcome the officers who arrived for work.

Now, with the work done in the square this year, the officers say they are willing to return to a job they love and hopefully, become the cameras of tourists again after the pandemic is over.

“We may not have been as famous as the Trevi Fountain, but we were a tourist attraction.” Mr Batisti said with a smile. “I bet there are still photos of us in North Korea.”

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