Rome to remove iconic cobblestones from traffic-clogged streets and replace them with asphalt

Nick Squires
Sanpietrini cobbles in Piazza Navona, Rome - Moment RF

They are an enduring symbol of Rome - but not quite enduring enough.

Hundreds of thousands of cobblestones that line some of the city's busiest roads are to be ripped up and replaced with asphalt.

The city’s authorities say that the blue-grey, basalt cobblestones are lovely to look at but cannot withstand the battering of so many cars, trucks and buses.

Hammered day and night by heavy traffic, the cobblestones get dislodged, turning some of Rome's busiest roads into perilous obstacle courses, particularly for cyclists and scooter riders.

The cobblestones are known as “sanpietrini”, a reference to San Pietro or St Peter because they were first laid in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican in the 16th century.

They are quarried from volcanic rock in the Alban Hills, east of Rome, and around the ancient Etruscan town of Volterra, north of the capital.

Pyramid-shaped and heavy, they make ideal paperweights and doorstops.

Early morning sunshine hits a road lined with cobbles in the historic heart of Rome Credit: Nick Squires

Laying them is still done manually, with teams of workers laboriously setting them in a bed of coarse sand and tapping them with wooden mallets until they are all at the same level.

They are to be removed from nearly 70 busy avenues in the capital, Virginia Raggi, the mayor announced this week.

The good news is that they will not go to waste. They are to be re-laid in more than 110 quieter, less trafficked streets and alleyways in the city centre, in many cases replacing asphalt surfaces.

Those streets include the upmarket Via Condotti near the Spanish Steps, which is lined with designer shops such as Gucci and Prada, as well as Via del Corso, another shopping street that runs through the heart of the city from Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Popolo.

A puddle surrounded by sanpietrini cobbles reflects the Colosseum Credit: Timothy Schultz

The work – which is likely to bring disruption to a city already notorious for its crazy traffic – is due to start later this year.

It will ensure that much of the city centre retains its picturesque character. “They are an essential part of our history,” said Ms Raggi.

Roberto Botta, a senior official with Rome city council, said: “For every cobblestone that we remove from one road, we will be re-laying them in another.”