Rome's Falling Arches

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ROME: The Colosseum and other treasures of the archeologically rich city need more funding and less abuse, or they may soon be history.

The landmarks that define this legendary city are in serious disrepair, the victims of monumental neglect, shrinking budgets and the wear and tear of Mother Nature and heavy-heeled visitors.

Rome's troubles exceed those found in many other archeologically rich locations because its historic center is not a roped-off museum but a vibrant, congested urban nucleus. People live and work among the ruins. The Circus Maximus, where charioteers once rumbled, is a park for dog-walkers and picnickers. Motor scooters zip under 2,000-year-old arches and cars jostle for space on imperial promenades. It's not unusual for Romans to have archeological digs in their backyards.

"Rome is still a living place," Bonnie Burnham, president of the nonprofit World Monuments Fund, said during a recent mission to the Italian capital. Preserving its heritage "presents a special set of contemporary needs and pressures" because of the coexistence of the modern and the ancient.

The Italian government is halfway through a vast, year-long engineering assessment of hundreds of archeological sites in the Eternal City, studying their condition and determining where the most urgent repair work should be done. Visitors to some of the sites could be in danger, officials say.

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