It’s not the first time that Roman centurions have fought on the streets of the Eternal City, but perhaps it’s the strangest – scuffles broke out at the start of this month between Rome’s police and a several-dozen strong group of “centurions” and “gladiators”.
The centurions and gladiators are one of the more kitsch attractions in Rome, charging a small sum for tourists to pose with them outside the Colosseum and other ancient landmarks. Visitors have so far enjoyed the thrills of being pictured with a “real” Roman.
However, the city authorities have recently instituted a “decorum” drive, for reasons unknown. As a result, the centurions have been banned from Roman monuments, amid accusations that they con tourists with fake tours and aggressively overcharge for photographs. Last August police arrested some 30 of them for these reasons, and it has also been known for rival groups of centurions to inadvertently perform re-enactments of Rome’s turbulent civil war period by fighting outside the Colosseum in turf wars!
Tourists seem to have viewed the recent scuffles as another form of entertainment, however. As police dragged away two centurions who unfurled a banner from an upper tier of the Colosseum, some some tourists were rooting for the Roman soldiery, shouting: “We’re with the centurions!”, which must have done wonders for morale…
Spokesman for the centurions have been meeting city officials to discuss the ban and attempt to be granted official status, with ID badges and licences to ply their trade.
The centurions are not the only kitsch attractions to be found in Rome, however. Here’s some other more quirky things that the UK tourist may find when visiting the city:
1. The Crypt of the Capuchin Friars. Found at the end of the Via Veneto, the church of Santa Maria della Concezione became the home of the friars in 1631. Once you’ve admired the Baroque paintings that line the interior of the church, pass through a side door on the exterior staircase and find the real attraction – five crypts decorated with bones taken from more than 4,000 monks who died between 1500 and 1870, plus whole skeletons and mummified monk!
2. The Largo di Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. Rome is teeming with feral cats, and if you feel for their plight, then the Largo di Torre Argentina is for you. As well as the cat sanctuary, the Largo di Torre Argentina square features four Roman temples and the remains of Pompey’s Theatre. For a small donation, the volunteers who run the sanctuary will introduce you to the cats, then take you on a tour of the ruins at 4pm.
3. The House of Monsters. Located on the Via Gregoriana, near the top of the Spanish Steps, the Palazzo Zuccari was decorated in 1592 with all its windows and doors as the gaping maws of giant monsters.
4. Gladiator School. Found at Gruppo Storico Romano, this is your chance to be Russell Crowe and stomp about in sword, tunic and sandals. You can decide to be Gladiator for a Day, or the hardcore can choose an incredible two-month course!
5. Museum of the Sanitary Arts. Located in the Santo Spirito Hospital, this museum not only details the history of health and healing, it also contains some really bizarre curios, such as Siamese twins in jars; a mediaeval operating table and a unicorn’s horn. Best of all, it’s absolutely free!