Destinations 2000

Where will you be during the Year 2000? Forget the one-second celebrations at mid night on Dec. 31, 1999 — that’s all over in the blink of an eye. There are still the following 365 days to sample and savour what’s going on around the world as everyone celebrates the millennium. After all, it only occurs every thousand years.

World capitals and the smallest of villages will be staging special events in honour of the millennium. In Canada, federal and provincial governments are planning a vast array of festivals and happenings which will be announced in the coming months. (Stay tuned to future editions of CARPNews for further details of closer-to-home activities).

In our featured millennium destinations — Israel (where it all began), London and Rome — we depict the flurry of planning, construction chaos and excitement as the year 2000 draws near. Travel Editor John Macdonald kicks things off with a look at what’s unfolding in Israel, and veteran travel writers Felicity Munn and Gerry Hall report on millennium spectacles in Rome and London.

One last thing: If you’re planning to participate in the millennium celebrations, start planning now.

From moments events of the past to conversations swirling about the city’s trattorias today, life in Rome has always been fraught with drama.

High drama indeed as preparations commence for the Great Jubilee of 2000, marking both the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ and the start of Christianity’s third millennium. “The city’s in complete pandemonium,” says Heide Rufus Isaacs, a Canadian who moved to the Eternal City earlier this year and who has since fallen in love with the place. “It’s like shopping in a department store right in the middle of a major renovation. It’s madness.” With good reason. This will be a Jubilee Year unlike any other.

Jubilee Years, or Holy Years, are nothing new in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Benifacio VII proclaimed the first Jubilee Year in 1300, exhorting pilgrims to visit Rome. It later became a tradition celebrated every 50 years — and subsequently every 25 years — by the faithful.

But this Jubilee, it’s said, will be the greatest pilgrimage in the history of Christianity. Roughly 24 million souls are expected to visit Rome in 2000, some three times the normal annual tally, adding an estimated 40,000 more cars to the already chaotic traffic congesting this beautiful city. And the Vatican Museums are forecasting a 45-per-cent jump in visitors, to about 4.5 million visitors. Which is why the Italian Government Travel Office in Montreal offers the following advice:

  • If you plan to visit Rome in 2000, particularly during peak religious periods such as Easter, firm up all arrangements now.
  • If you want to visit Rome but aren’t particularly motivated by religious reasons or millennium fever, consider avoiding the city altogether in 2000.

Isaacs, however, has a different take on the situation. She thinks the completed makeover will look so lovely, and the celebrations will be so special, that the Great Jubilee will simply be “too much magic to miss.”

In a telephone interview from her home behind St. Peter’s Basilica, from which she has an eye-level view of the famous dome, she advised the time to avoid Rome is not during the Jubilee, but during the renovation/building period leading up to it.

“It’s a nightmare right now. I can’t think of a corner that doesn’t have scaffolding all over it. St. Peter’s is completely cobwebbed in scaffolding, plus all its pillars are being sandblasted at the same time. The tunnel on the only road between St. Peter’s and the river will be closed for a year and a half. Plus, many of the fountains are dry for cleaning and resurfacing.”

At the best of times, Rome is scarcely an urban planner’s model of efficiency. As Richard Knight writes in his new guidebook, The Millennium Guide (Trailblazer/Raincoast Books, $11.95), “Italy’s capital . . . is judged by many to be both chaotic and poorly managed.” On the other hand, he adds, the year 2000 might be just the chance for Rome to shed that image. To that end, in addition to all the roadwork, restoration, buffing and beautification, a new information centre for pilgrims is planned and the Vatican is working with the city of Rome on other critical areas such as security and volunteer training.

Meanwhile, authorities are scrambling to expand accommodation options in time for the Great Jubilee. By 2000, they hope to have 200,000 beds available in Rome and the surrounding area, located in everything from hotels to private homes, campsites, convents, monasteries and hostels. Officials are even considering using idle railway cars.

Still, they warn that lodging will be incredibly tight. Many visitors will probably have to stay in suburban towns and outlying cities — taking day trips into Rome by train.

Tourists of all stripes are expected in 2000, but obviously most will have a strong religious motivation behind their visit. Elaborate Church ceremonies will form the nucleus of events throughout the year.

The Great Jubilee begins in Rome on Dec. 24, 1999, with Midnight Mass on the Birth of the Lord and the Opening of the Holy Doors at St. Peter’s Basilica, described by Pope John Paul II as symbolizing the beginning of “a year of grace and reconciliation for the whole Church.”

It ends 54 weeks later, on Jan. 6, 2001, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, when the Holy Doors will be closed for another 25 years.

In the months between, the Vatican’s official Holy Year 2000 calendar includes the following major events:

Jan. 1, 2000: World Peace Day
March 8: Ash Wednesday.
April 21: Good Friday.
April 23: Easter.
Dec. 25: Christmas.
Jan. 1, 2001: World Peace Day.

Throughout the year, the Vatican will also set aside special Jubilee Days, each dedicated to a particular segment of the population, from children, artists and workers to scientists, seniors, farmers and families. One big event will be World Youth Days, from Aug. 15-20.

The Pope is doing his bit with nearly daily public appearances during the Great Jubilee. He turns 80 on May 18, 2000, prompting the Church to designate that date as the Jubilee of the Clergy.

Though details remain sketchy, a host of related cultural events are also planned. The Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in Rome will schedule a series of concerts, such as Anno Domini 2000, comprised of new compositions, and Treasures of Holy Music from the Past. Art museums throughout Rome and at the Vatican will be mounting special exhibits.

For her part, Isaacs — who was raised in Vancouver, and who has lived in Paris, England and Los Angeles — plans to enjoy the Millennium in Rome as much as any tourist, and has no doubts that all the construction-related hassle in the city will have been well worth it.

“I’m looking forward to it. The anticipation is very spiritual and religious. Just waiting for the celebrations to begin is a lot like the feeling you get when Christmas is coming.”

Felicity Munn is a Montreal-based freelance writer.