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The BBC's Brian Barron
The consensus is that the avenue will have to be cleared away
 real 56k

Friday, 23 February, 2001, 17:09 GMT
Roman road leads to row
coliseum
Evidence of Rome's rich history can be found across the city
Calls to demolish a huge road built in Rome in the 1930s by the fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, have produced a storm of controversy. Brian Barron reports.

In the heart of Rome, the imprint of emperors is everywhere.

Today the debris of centuries is being cleared from the Octavian Gate, built by Augustus about 25 years before Christ was born.

Casear's Forum - the hub of the ancinet city
Casear's Forum - the hub of the ancient city
Around the corner in Trajan's forum - in effect the world's first shopping mall - the latest discoveries are being crated up for an exhibition in New York.

When they return they will be housed in a new museum in Rome.

Among the new finds which have survived sieges, conquests and earthquakes are fragments of the sumptuous floor of a temple to the Roman gods.

The main worry these days is financial. Jubilee Year funds are running out which could cripple further work.

Another problem is disagreement about the main road - Via dei Fori Imperiali - which has become a key traffic artery in modern Rome.

The trouble is, it divides the ruins.

Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini continues to cause controversy
Mussolini built the road in 1932 on top of the ancient city.

It was designed as his victory avenue, though in the event Italy was defeated by Britain and America in World War II and Mussolini was executed by fellow Italians.

The chief excavator in the Trajan market, Roberto Mengini, says: "The street of Mussolini is a part of history - albeit from the fascist period.

"For that reason some heritage experts want it preserved.

"But it covers important classical sites. Archaeologists like me think it should be demolished."

What is tantalising for the archaeologists is that they have uncovered fragments of a gigantic marble map of ancient Rome.

They think more is buried under Mussolini's avenue, along with other treasures.

The consensus is that eventually Mussolini's triumphal avenue will be cleared away.

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