Why Rome Is Replacing Its Historic Cobblestone Streets With Not-so-quaint Asphalt

Rome, Italy
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The mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, announced last week that the city will replace cobblestones on about 70 of its busiest streets with smooth asphalt.

The stones are notorious for being difficult to navigate in anything but the most practical footwear and for being extremely slippery when wet. They've also come loose from the pressure of automobiles over the years and have been known to send cyclists flying from their bikes.

But the centuries-old stones won't be disappearing from the city. The stones that are torn out will be re-laid on smaller streets where only pedestrians need to travel across them. "For every cobblestone that we remove from one road, we will be re-laying them in another," Roberto Botta, a member Rome's City Council, told Il Messaggiero. A total of 118 streets are expected to receive the recycled stones.

Rome's cobblestones are known as "sampietrini," which means "little St. Peters," named for the square where the stones were first set in the 16th century.

Construction work is expected to begin later this year. Those driving through Rome should expect even heavier traffic in the affected areas.

The stones are an iconic part of Roman history. In protests of the '60s, they were the Italians' preferred weapon and became symbolic for the working class. Some tourists have been known to wrongly remove them from the street and take them home as a souvenir. Two years ago, a traveler with a very guilty conscious mailed back a stone they had stolen on vacation a year earlier, writing, "Please find enclosed a cobble from one of your cobbled roads."

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