ROME-For years now a common site in front of the city's most known attraction, the Coliseum, has been men dressed as the soldiers and warriors who actually battled inside the arena more than 2,000 years ago.
These "gladiators and centurions" are a group of around 30 men ages from teens to their 60's who pose for tourists in exchange for tips. They ask $7 to $10 for a photo. Sometimes they are even more aggressive. Last year, one gladiator tried to con a Japanese tourist after they snapped a photo and physically threatened him when he wouldn't hand over $130.
After years of the previous government turning a blind eye, the authority responsible for Rome's cultural heritage, Mariarosaria Barbera, sent a letter to Rome's mayor demanding that the fake gladiators be removed along with the illegal snack bar wagons and ice cream vendors that swarm around the ancient arena to fight for tourist attention.
Although some tourists seem to enjoy their antics and having their picture taken with a burly looking Italian dressed in fake leather tunics and plastic helmets, some of the characters dressed as gladiators look nothing like Russell Crowe and are often not even Roman.
This morning as the gladiators staged a noisy protest outside two of the group made their way to the second floor to hang a banner on the exterior of the Coliseum protesting the decision to ban them from panhandling. "Let us work at the Coliseum, give us the right to let us stay here," they yelled.
The group had been notified previously that a blitz by the police was coming. Instead of obeying a cease and desist warning to stop their work they occupied a section of the arena for much of the day. When police and firemen moved in to cordon the area, two of the gladiators scuffled with the police as stunned tourists watched, some screaming support for the gladiators.
Paramedics took one of the centurions to hospital after he fell during the confrontation, police said. Firefighters have taken up positions outside the Coliseum to protect the monument and to prevent the protestors from reentering the historic site. One has even threatened to light himself on fire to bring attention to their cause.