A man takes a picture of a woman standing next to an old Fiat 500 car parked in front of a pile of rubbish in a street of central Rome on July 23, 2016. (AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE)

Rome's sad decline sums up Italy's problems

Updated 8:58 PM ET, Sun March 4, 2018

Rome (CNN)Few cities in the world bear the scars of such a tumultuous past as the ancient city of Rome. It has been sacked by the Gauls and the Goths, by the French and the Fascists, with each invader leaving a layer of history that adds to its complexity.

But lately, the city has fallen victim to a different kind of threat -- that of indifference and questionable city governments that have left its grandeur dirty and decaying.
The mosaics and frescoes are still safe within the fortified walls of the great palaces and museums, but it is far more likely that any recent visitor will instead remember the graffiti and the garbage spilling over onto the cobblestone streets. Buses don't run on time and frequent labor union disputes lead to strikes that shut down public transportation altogether.
Rome has been suffering from a chronic rubbish collection issue since Christmas Eve.
So dire is the situation that a group of city activists who work under the banner "Roma Fa Schifo" (Rome is Disgusting) chronicle the degradation on a website and Twitter feed with more than 150,000 followers.
This city is also lately filled with migrants who suffer from a recent backlash that is pushing right-wing anti-immigration parties to the forefront ahead of Sunday's elections.
Rome has no official center for migrants waiting for word on their political asylum requests, so many camp out near the main train station or settle in any number of shanty towns that have sprung up along the banks of the city's Tiber River.
In January, CNN visited an abandoned multi-story university building known to its inhabitants as the Selam Palace, where nearly 1,000 Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali refugees who have been granted legal refugee status squat illegally because the city can't find legitimate housing. There are more than 50 other abandoned office buildings just like it throughout the city.
Migrants warm up around a fire at a makeshift camp in Rome in February.
Donatella D'Angelo, a medical doctor with a nongovernmental organization called Cittadini Del Mondo (Citizens of the World), visits the center once a week to provide basic health care.
"It is unthinkable that a European capital treats refugees and migrants like this," she told CNN while volunteers cobbled together wires with duct tape so she had enough light to treat patients. "This is Rome? This is the best we can do?"

A frozen city

On Monday morning, a dusting of snow brought the city to a complete standstill, closing schools for two full days and paralyzing traffic. The city's buses had to be called back to the depot after it was confirmed that the city government had apparently overlooked funding for all-weather tires.
Romans trudge through the snow in St. Peter's Square on Monday.
The last time it snowed, in 2012, a similar fiasco ensued when it was discovered that the snow blades meant to be clipped on to garbage collection trucks were the wrong size. It was soon apparent that promises to fix that problem had been forgotten when the army had to be called in to remove the slushy snow from the streets to try to get the buses running again. The snow blades are still rusting in an abandoned parking lot near the Baths of Caracalla.
Those businesses that did open had to resort to using table salt to keep their clients from slipping in the slush. With an absence of snow shovels or city clean-up crews, workers used anything they could find, from serving trays to pieces of cardboard, to clean the sidewalks.
Several trees that had not been properly pruned and trimmed last autumn collapsed under the weight of the snow, one falling next to children throwing snowballs in a park in the neighborhood of Testaccio near the city center. Another untrimmed tree fell onto a light rail line near Rome's ancient Aurelian walls, blocking what had been the only means of above-ground public transportation in the entire city.
Melting snow turned subway stairs into waterfalls, and the average wait for trains out of Rome while crews worked to clear the tracks was just over two hours.
Romans did as they always do, just shrugging it off and meeting for coffee to complain, which is a favorite, and often justifiable, pastime. A group of older men sitting in the Linari coffee bar in Testaccio argued Monday morning about solutions for the mess Rome finds itself in.
"Mussolini would have had these streets clean by now," said one man as he sipped a creamy cappuccino. "We need order in this country again, a stronger hand to put things back in place."

Blame game continues

In fact, much of the blame for Rome's current state of disrepair has been cast on Mayor Virginia Raggi, the first female ever to lead the eternal city, and the first member of the maverick Five Star Movement (M5S) political party to be given charge of such an important municipality.
Virginia Raggi was criticized for being in Mexico during this week's storm.
When the snow fell on Monday, she was ridiculed for being in Mexico for talks about climate change. She certainly couldn't have foreseen the inclement weather, but she is being blamed for not having the measures in place just in case. Criticism against her and her party trended all day.
The populist M5S is polling ahead of all the other single parties ahead of the upcoming elections. The party has previously ruled out forming a coalition, which makes it unlikely that it can attain power, although it has suggested in recent days that it may have changed its stance.