How did the ancient Romans get about? What about today’s?

Here’s a quick account on the evolution of transport in the Eternal City from the “Litter’’ to today’s sustainable mobility.

Transport in Caesar’s times

“Rome’s traffic is abysmal!” That’s a typical phrase that you’d hear today from any of the Capital’s inhabitants, but what if the ancient Romans said much the same in their time? Well, given a population nearing one million, chaotic and heavy traffic besieged the city even during Caesar’s rule. So much so, that in 45 BC he promulgated a law that limited the use of privately owned vehicles within the walls.

Typically, these were “slave powered” since those drawn by animals were only allowed outside the city walls. The “Litters” were the most famous, these were basically four poster beds on legs complete with curtains for the sake of privacy of their usually rich and influential passengers. A second best to these were the Sadan chairs, upon which, unsurprisingly, one travelled sitting down!

The animal powered vehicles offered more variety. We had the Essedum, a two-wheeler with driver used for short pleasure rides or quick commutes. Next up would be the four wheeled Carruca, drawn by horses or mules, used for longer journeys even with luggage, the Plaustrum used to carry building materials or debry and finally the Carruca Dormitoriae (the sleeping cart) the “wagon-lit” of Roman times.

These all travelled on a rather complex road network that, through the so called Consular  Roads, that connected Rome to the corners of its Empire. Hence the expression “All roads lead to Rome”. Lest not also forget, that Rome was built on the banks of a river, the Tiber, which allowed people and cargo to be shipped on water, somewhat more so then, than in present time.

Roman modern Age transport

Following the fall of the Roman empire and throughout the Middle Ages, not a lot changed transport wise other than the virtual disappearance of slave drawn  vehicles.

The 16th and 17th centuries brought about a passion for carriages: the influence of baroque art and the improvement of  road surfaces helped ‘sales’ tremendously! Just as it is today with motor cars, noblemen and ladies competed for the ownership of the latest model showing off  refined decor and intricate inlays. This again led to traffic and chaos to the extent that Pope Sixtus V forbade their use because the terrible clatter of the carriages disturbed the citizens. You can get a flavor of the times by visiting the “Vintage Carriages” permanent exhibition in the Ardeatina area.

Carriages stay in use throughout the 18th century, especially the four door version, and in 1845 a very similar vehicle coming from France, the Omnibus, joins the fleet. It was drawn by either 2 or 4 horses and could carry up to 10 people: “mass” transport was thus born. The ancestor of the modern bus ran from Piazza Venezia to St. Pauls and was largely used to transport pilgrims to and from those places.

Contemporary Transport in Rome

The arrival of engine powered vehicles meant that animal drawn carriages were slowly fazed out making room for trams and trains. Indeed the first cluster of buildings around Termini Station, today’s busiest railway station in Italy,  was first built at about the same time. During the Fascist dictatorship use of the electric tram was gradually cut back, especially so in the Historic centre, and during the economic boom years of the 50’s and 60’s, the first underground service was launched but, more importantly, car ownership began to spread.

What happens Today?

In order to counter public transport problems and air pollution, new  forms of transport caring of the environment and a healthy way of living,  are spreading rapidly. Car- sharing and bike-sharing projects are increasingly popular with people  tired of contending with traffic related difficulties and keen to move autonomously. Electric cars are also on the rise and that is why Buzz4tours came about. Tourists also suffer public transport problems and Buzz, the two-seater electric wonder, is there to address their mobility problems in full respect of the urban environment, of Rome’s great beauty and the health of its inhabitants.

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