Why are there so many soldiers around Rome?
This is a question we get asked fairly often by most first time visitors to Rome (and other cities in Italy, as well): many of them are surprised by the amount of military personnel keeping guard by monuments, museums, subway stations and other seemingly nondescript buildings (but really they host embassies, government offices or other sensitive targets).
The scheme is part of a policing operation called “Strade sicure” (“Safe Streets”), launched in 2008 as part of broader government measures to fight and prevent crime in various cities of Italy. Over time, with terrorist attacks becoming sadly more common, Vatican City and Rome have become sensitive targets and the soldiers from the Strade Sicure program are actively involved in deterring such crimes.
Italy’s long fight against terrorism
Italy has had to battle internal terrorism since the late Sixties, but starting in the Seventies, the country was hit by several acts of terrorism by Palestinian extremists. As a result, Italy has produced dedicated laws and our counter-intelligence is presently considered as one of the best worldwide, succeeding in isolating and expelling individuals with ties to Islamic terrorism before they could pose an actual threat to the population.
Currently, Italy has only had the one attempt at a terrorist attack after 9/11, while other such plans have been dealt with before they were still being developed. The Safe Streets operation has been recognized as part of the reason why Italy’s strategy against terrorism is working. The soldiers participating in the scheme can also tackle violent crime and petty crime like pickpocketing.
Where to find soldiers from the Strade Sicure operation
If you’ve been walking by the Colosseum, the Vatican or Piazza Navona, these are all landmarks where soldiers can be found: they are usually by an armored truck, most times wearing camo uniforms and carrying an assault rifle. It’s not uncommon to see concrete barriers by their positions.
If you’re curious, you’re welcome to observe but please refrain from taking pictures – these guys are risking their lives everyday and you’re also putting them at risk if you were to share their picture online or with other people.