Project touted as Italy's answer to Euro Disney

ROME — The city of Rome and Cinecitta Entertainment are moving forward with plans for a vast, Hollywood-inspired, ancient Rome theme park being touted as Italy’s answer to Euro Disney in Paris.

The long-gestating Cinecitta World, centered on Roman life 2,000 years ago, will become an operative project “in the next few months,” Cinecitta Entertainment topper Luigi Abete announced at a Rome conference on tourism in the Italo capital.

Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno said city administrators have located a roughly 650-acre area for the park in Castel Romano south of Rome, partly on the backlot of the former Dino De Laurentiis studio complex known as Dino Studios, which Cinecitta now owns.

“The movie ‘Gladiator’ has greatly contributed to projecting an image of Rome associated with its ancient past around the world; this, in turn, has produced an excellent flow of tourism,” Alemanno said as he tubthumped the theme-park project.

Despite Alemanno’s enthusiasm, tourism in Rome was reportedly down 5% last summer, and Paris is estimated to have twice as many visitors per year.

Abete said Cinecitta and the Eternal City have partnered with Italo insurance giant Gruppo Generali and secured an initial $410 million investment. They are eying a 2013 target completion date.

Rome deputy mayor Mauro Cutrufo has said visitors to Cinecitta World will be offered rides through a replica of the Colosseum, where they will be able to watch gladiators fight.The planned park will strive for historical accuracy while offering family-friendly attractions based both on life during the Roman Republic — which ended with the assassination of Julius Caesar and the civil war — and during the Roman Empire.

There is still some skepticism about whether the Rome park will actually materialize. Italy’s ancient artifacts commissioner Andrea Carandini has voiced his disapproval, saying funds should go toward restoring the ancient Colosseum rather than building a new one.

Cinecitta World, which is headed by former Canal Plus exec Emmanuel Gout, had reportedly toyed with the idea of recycling the massive Cinecitta set of HBO’s “Rome” skein, which includes a partial re-creation of the Roman Forum. But those plans were scrapped after a 2007 fire partly destroyed the “Rome” set.

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