Rome Christmas market stalled over security row

Future remains uncertain for Piazza Navona Befana market.

Rome's Befana Christmas market, which was scheduled to return to Piazza Navona after three years on 2 December, has so far failed to open due to an argument between the city and stallholders over who pays for security.

The city argues that, according to their contracts, stallholders should foot the anti-terrorism security bill – whose final figure could reach €450,000 according to reports in Italian media. The stallholders, however, do not agree, leading to a still-empty Piazza Navona ten days after the market was due to have opened.

While many welcomed the return of the market, announced by the city in late November, the recipients of around half of the 48 operating licences attracted immediate controversy. It emerged that each category of market stall containing the same surname – Tredicine – the powerful family which owns the majority of the mobile sandwich bars around the city and has political connections. Numerous Tredicine family members were awarded licenses, valid for nine years, to sell everything from Christmas trees and cribs to toys and sweets at the Befana.

The announcement also led to internal friction within the city administration of Rome mayor Virginia Raggi, of the anti-establishment Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S). Rome's councillor for economic development, tourism and labour Adriano Meloni accused the chairman of the city's commerce committee Andrea Coia of coming to an “agreement” with the Tredicine family.

Meloni subsequently retracted his comments, following a meeting with Raggi, stating: "There is no link between the M5S and the Tredicine family, least of all in the organisation of the Befana [market]."

In December 2014 the number of stalls at the historic market, which used to be one of Rome's main Christmas attractions, was reduced from 115 to 72 by Rome's former mayor Ignazio Marino, who subsequently launched a crack-down on the city's mobile sandwich bars, mostly owned by the Tredicine family.

In 2015 the number of Befana stalls was reduced to 48 by Marino, ten days before his resignation as mayor. The 2015 market was then cancelled at the last minute by Marino's successor, Rome commissioner Francesco Paolo Tronca, over “administrative irregularities” after it emerged that roughly half of the licences were granted directly or indirectly to the Tredicine family.

Last year the city hosted some cultural and children's events in Piazza Navona, including a carousel, but there were no stalls.

The city and the stallholders continue to negotiate over the 2017-18 Befana but in the meantime Rome faces a fourth Christmas with a market-free Piazza Navona.

 

Photo Corriere della Sera