As Rome Modernizes, Its Past Quietly Crumbles

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The Eternal City is anything but.

Collapses this spring at a couple of ancient sites here caused weary archaeologists to warn, yet again, about other imminent calamities threatening Rome’s precarious architectural birthright.

Meanwhile, the smart set went gaga when an ostentatious national museum for contemporary art, Maxxi, opened recently, along with an expansion to the city-run new-art museum, Macro. That was just after Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, convened a conference for planners and architects to mull a bid for the 2020 Olympics as an incentive to update Italy’s capital. Contemporary architecture now promises to be the engine and symbol of a new creative identity for Rome that, if development is done right for a change, would complement the city’s glorious past.

“What does Rome want to be when it grows up?” is how Richard Burdett, a planner from London with Italian roots, put the situation the other day. He meant the situation of Rome at a crossroads, struggling ahead, falling behind....

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