Page last updated at 14:55 GMT, Sunday, 28 September 2003 15:55 UK

Rome revellers hit by blackout

By Suzanne Bush
In Rome

People crammed into the streets of Rome for the festival
Even before the blackout struck and the lights went out last night was anything but a normal night for the people of Rome.

Italy's capital was holding its first official "Notte Bianca" or "Sleepless night", an idea borrowed from Paris, in which the city stays open all night.

The name literally translates as the "White Night", and it is somewhat ironic that it was brought to a premature end as the city was plunged into darkness.

At 0330 when the power went off the streets were still packed with what seemed like 10 times as many people as usual.

They turned out in force to visit the countless museums, theatres, galleries, cinemas, sports centres and shops staying open all night.

Massive turnout

Virtually every square hosted some kind of event, many involving light displays. Rome's main shopping street was one huge sea of people flowing in both directions.

Officials estimate around a million people had taken to the streets, many intent on staying out till dawn when the last events were due to take place.

It had all started so well, kicking off at 1930 with one of Italy's best-loved actors holding open rehearsals of Romeo and Juliet in Rome's very own Globe Theatre, finished just in time for last night's event.

The white night? It's more like the dark night.
Massimiliano Bellocchi
Even waiters working in one of Rome's traditionally all-night bars were amazed at the response, commenting that they've never seen the city as packed as it was.

As Romans took advantage of the hundreds of events on offer it was already looking like a victim of its own success, with traffic gridlocked around the city as people ignored advice to leave their cars at home.

Then shortly before 0300 the rain began and looked like threatening to bring the event to an early end. People were already cursing their luck as the weather got steadily worse. For many the subsequent blackout must surely have felt like fate intervening.

Spirits high

But those sheltering from the rain in Piazza Campidoglio by the statue of Marcus Aurelius at 0400 were determined not to give up straight away.

For 27-year-old student Elisa Lappone even the rain and the darkness weren't enough to dampen her enthusiasm for the night. "It's been a great initiative.

"I think even this is funny, but unfortunately because of all that's happened I think we're going to go home now. Otherwise we'd have tried to stay out until dawn probably."

Unemployed engineer Massimiliano Bellocchi, 32, was very reluctant to give up on the Notte Bianca. "This is very unfortunate. The white night? It's more like the dark night.

Many revellers were intent on staying out all night
"This has been a bit of a handicap which we didn't need, but hopefully the lights will come back on and we can go and see something else. If it's restored I reckon we'll stay out till six or seven."

For 43-year-old professor Bruno Ambrosetti the rain was the problem, rather than the power cut.

"It's rather unlucky. We were thinking of going to a concert at 0600 but we Romans fear the rain, we're not used to it, so we've had to hide from it."

As time wore on and it became apparent the rain wasn't going to stop and the lights weren't about to come back on the mass exodus for home began.

Those lucky enough not to be stuck on underground trains turned to the overloaded night bus system which was struggling to cope as more and more people crammed onto the already bursting buses.

In many cities, such a successful night turning into such chaos would have left people mostly cross and angry.

But here in Rome spirits remained surprisingly high, as everyone struggled home, looking forward to a warm, dry bed, and confident they would get to experience another "Notte Bianca" in their city.

One hopefully blessed by better weather and a reliable power supply.

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