The Italian Almanac

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vigile (municipal policeman)

Italian News - March 23

Rising up in the middle of Rome's busiest square, it is referred to by local traffic police as 'the doughnut' or the 'belly button' of the Eternal City. The round concrete pedestal on which the dapper 'vigili' stand to direct traffic in Piazza Venezia, waving their white-gloved hands in an elegant display of mime, has been there since 1898. Unfortunately, while it may have been easy to avoid for motorists in less congested times, nowadays having a 40-cm high lump of concrete sticking up in the middle of a major intersection is a recipe for disaster.

At night, and at other quiet times when the 'doughnut' is not manned, careless drivers simply don't see it. Over the last ten years, the pedestal has been bashed 12 times. Circling it with oil lamps and putting up barriers seemed to have no effect. Nor did painting it in ever more striking black and white stripes.

But now city traffic authorities have the solution. A high-tech system of hydraulic pistons is being fitted underneath the pedestal, which will soon be able to rise up majestically out of the road when it is needed, but disappear into the road at other times. The podium will be controlled from the police station which overlooks the piazza, the traffic hub of central Rome.

Traffic police are said to be thrilled by the technological advance which will permit the tradition of Rome's last remaining pedestal to continue.