Fear deters tourists from Rome amid terror threat

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An Italian soldier from the "Granatieri" corp, stands near the Colosseum. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
14:32 CET+01:00
Hotels in Rome reported a rise in booking cancellations in the days after the Paris attacks, while an FBI tip-off that jihadists are plotting attacks at Italy’s landmark sites, including the Vatican, has deterred tourists.

The cobbled streets and alleys in Rome’s centre have felt unusually quiet and the ambiance subdued over the past few days, even more so since the announcement late on Wednesday about the FBI’s warning, a police officer patrolling the area near Piazza Navona told The Local.

“There are definitely fewer people than usual, and I’ve noticed less and less since Friday,” he said.

“Since the FBI warning went public, more people seem to have stayed away. The attacks in Paris were at public places – restaurants, bars, clubs, normal places – this has made people more afraid.”

Earlier this week, Roberto Necci, the president of the Lazio region’s hotel association, said hotels in the capital saw an “above average” rise in room cancellations in the days following the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people.

“People are afraid,” he told Corriere.

“If this ‘war’ situation continues, then we can expect booking cancellations for the Jubilee too. Past experience teaches us this. The situation is worrying for everyone.”

Restaurants in the capital also reported dinner cancellations in the wake of the attacks.

“Many restaurants, most of them in central places like Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori, reported cancellations,” Alessandro Ciriciello, the president of the Italian Federation of Chefs for the Lazio region, said.

“Most of the cancellations have been by foreigners. Large hotels have also been affected.”

The FBI warned that St Peter's, Milan's Duomo and its famous La Scala opera house, as well as churches, synagogues, restaurants, theaters and hotels had been identified as "potential targets”. Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Thursday five suspects are being sought in connection to the tip-off.

Italy has been swift in its response to the threat: hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to patrol Rome’s streets, while security has been tightened at sites deemed to be a target.

“We’re here 24/7,” the police officer said.

“People should try to carry on with their lives as much as possible.”

Andrew and Oksana, a couple from New York, were among the visitors snapping photos of the Pantheon, one of Rome’s most fascinating buildings, on Piazza della Rotonda, on Thursday night.

They were at the airport preparing for their flight to Rome when they heard the news about the attacks in Paris.

“For a moment, we hesitated about coming,” Andrew told The Local.

“But quickly decided to carry on with the trip. We live in New York, where there’s always a threat. I was walking along a street when the September 11th attacks happened – I saw the World Trade Center collapse. So we know how it feels. You just have to carry on, you can’t let them win.”

The couple leave Rome on Saturday and said they’ve felt perfectly safe.

“We’ve noticed the police as we’ve wandered around, and saw the flowers outside the French Embassy. Rome is such a beautiful city, we hope it stays safe.”

Over at St Peter’s square, Mary, a Romanian who lives in Ireland, and her husband, were among a handful of tourists looking up at the Vatican.

Millions of Catholic pilgrims are expected to flock to the capital from December 8th, when the Holy Year, or Jubilee, gets underway.

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Photo: The Local Italy

“I didn’t think twice about not coming,” she said.

“We’ve walked the whole of Rome over the past few days and tomorrow we go to Perugia. I’m not afraid at all.”

While diners were notably absent in many of the restaurants in the Borgo area, near Vatican City, one restaurant owner said it was nothing unusual.

“October was busy, but November is always quieter,” she told The Local.

Still, she is counting on the Catholic pilgrims for an uptick from December.

"We hope people don't change their minds."

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