When he decided to build his palace in the fields outside Rome in the second century AD, the emperor Hadrian wanted to escape the sounds and the smells of the capital.
Little did he imagine that 18 centuries later the stench of the city would follow him there thanks to plans to build an emergency rubbish dump near the villa, as Rome runs out of space to bury its trash.
But now, another Roman noble has stepped in to defend Hadrian’s villa near Tivoli from the garbage trucks, which are expected in the new year. Prince Urbano Barberini, an actor, farmer and descendant of a 17th century pope, is mustering local farmers for a fightback against a scheme he claims will ruin the Unesco-listed ruins.
“This is like dumping rubbish next to the pyramids – what if tourists have to time their visits according to which way the wind is blowing?” said Barberini, who produces olive oil locally. “And should people attending the concerts held at the ruins bring masks?”
The decision to dump rubbish in an old quarry near the villa after Rome’s main tip at Malagrotta was filled to capacity was taken using emergency powers to overrule bans on developing the virgin countryside.
“There will be no going back on this, there can be no hesitation,” said Renata Polverini, the governor of the region of Lazio on Monday.
A 250-acre complex of 30 buildings including palaces, baths, a theatre, temples and libraries built in Greek and Egyptian styles, Hadrian’s villa centres around a small house sitting in the middle of a pool, accessed only by drawbridges, where the emperor could seek refuge from his court.
“You can’t bury 2,000 years of history under tonnes of rubbish,” wrote actor and campaigner Franca Valeri in a full-page appeal to Italian president Giorgio Napolitano taken out in Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
Barberini warned that a Roman era underground aquaduct which still carries water into Rome 18 miles away, is dug into the porous tufo under the site of the proposed dump and risks being polluted.
“A small tributary of a river that runs into the capital is also 30 metres from the site,” he added. “It floods regularly, and we risk rubbish floating straight back to Rome.”
A descendant of Pope Urban VIII, who commissioned works in Rome by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Barberini owns a castle in the nearby picture postcard hamlet of San Vittorino. But he denied the campaign was a case of not-in-my-castle’s-back yard.
“My visibility is useful, but this is really about local farmers who were all told to go organic and now will have nothing. We are fighting tanks with arrows, but this will be a battle to the end.”
Local campaigners have been joined by Italian environmental group Legambiente, which has attacked the governor of the region of Lazio, which covers Rome, for opening new dumps instead of promoting recycling in Rome – with 80% of the city’s rubbish, it stated, still ending up in dumps.
The regional authority is also planning to unload tonnes of rubbish in quarries next to the small town of Riano north of Rome, where locals have blocked railway lines in protest.
“We are heading towards a garbage crisis like Naples’,” said Barberini. “Why couldn’t they use their emergency powers to push recycling? The region once promoted the area around Hadrian’s villa as a tourist destination, recommending a series of walks. Half of those pass straight through where the rubbish will be.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010