The construction of a huge stage on the ancient Palatine Hill has drawn fierce criticism from coucillors, cultural and environmental organizations, and archaeologists.
The stage will be used for a musical telling the story of Roman Emperor Nero, which will also feature projections, acrobatics, and interactive elements.
Among the critics of the project were city councillor Nathalie Naim, who said the bright lighting was better suited to an “amusement park” than to a cultural heritage site, and former Rome antiquities superintendent, Adriano La Regina, who wrote in the Vatican daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that the stage was an “insult to the Rome landscape”.
And Andrea Carandini, president of the FAI, Italy's National Trust, labelled the construction of the stage “a disgrace”. Carandini argued that organizers should have chosen an alternative venue such as the Baths of Caracalla, a Roman site which is also used to put on concerts and opera shows in the summer months.
But Francesco Prosperetti, Rome's Archeological Superintendent, told The Local that authorities had carefully considered both the location of the site and potential impact on the area's archaeological heritage.
He cited both the Baths of Caracalla and Verona's amphitheatre – which has hosted cultural events for more than a century – as examples of the successful integration of historic sites and modern events.
“Having shows in archeological places hasn't always helped their protection and conservation, but today we are more aware of the compatibility of events with places,” he explained.
“We chose the site [the Vigna Barberini] because of its secluded place on the Palatine Hill, where there are few archaeological points of interest, apart from the remains of a temple dedicated to [Roman emperor] Heligobalus,” the architect continued.
Despite the outrage at building the stage directly over the temple remains, Prosperetti said this was a deliberate choice, made in order to preserve the site from footfall.
He also stressed the benefits that the show will bring to preserving the area's heritage; usage fees paid by the theatre company, as well as three percent of ticket proceeds, will be used for the restoration of the site. Proseperetti believes these will total around 1 million euros.
What's more, he hopes that the musical could help get a new demographic interested in Rome's ancient history.
“Cultural heritage sites are often surrounded by impenetrable fences and become detached from the cities, but this initiative helps open it back up to the city, and perhaps to a different audience from usual,” said Proseperetti.
Plans for the musical, Diva Nerone, were officially announced in October 2016. It was written by Grammy Award-winning lyricist Franco Migliacci and is directed by Gino Landi. The show will be performed in both Italian and English, starring 26 acrobats and 12 actors.
The musical's subtitle – 'the most fiery musical in history' – refers to the Great Fire of Rome, which burned for over five days in 64 AD, destroying or damaging ten of the city's 14 districts.
Some historians have suggested that Nero started the fire himself, while a popular myth states that he played the fiddle while the city burned; however, others argue that he wasn't in the city at the time, and contributed to the relief effort afterwards.
The stage will be located in front of the Domus Aurea, a huge villa build by Nero between 64-68 AD in the space cleared by the fire and used to host his infamously decadent parties. The villa was closed to the public due to structural concerns in 2005.
With reporting by Caterina Zita