Florence fights back against tourist army

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The Independent Online
With two international summit meetings looming at the start of a long, hot tourist season, the city of Florence is taking some unorthodox measures to spruce itself up and take control of the armies of visitors invading its streets and museums.

Coach parties wanting to come into the centre of town will have to book ahead and pay an admission fee if they want to get past checkpoints being set up at the two main motorway exits to the north and south of the Tuscan capital from the beginning of May. Only 150 coaches will be admitted each day; the other 400-odd now double- or triple-parking on Florence's narrow medieval streets, will have to stop on the outskirts, where buses will pick up the tourists and take them in and out of town.

Similarly, anyone wanting to visit the Uffizi Museum, home to many of the defining masterpieces of Italian Renaissance painting, will have to buy a ticket in advance and turn up at a pre-arranged time. The days of half-mile-long queues snaking all the way around Piazza della Signoria may soon be a thing of the past.

In the run-up to an international meeting on Bosnia on 14 and 15 June, and a European Union summit a week later, the city has banned the feeding of stray cats and introduced stiff fines for dog-owners who fail to clear up after their animals. Special handlers, meanwhile, are capturing Florence's 200,000 pigeons, feeding them contraceptive pills and exterminating any which show signs of illness.

And if that sounds weird, there is something even stranger in store for the summit days: the horses who transport tourists around the city's centre on specially painted carriages will be obliged to wear special nappies so they run no risk of fouling up the proceedings.

"We're not trying to stop anyone getting in to the city. We just want to regulate things a bit so that the avalanches of tourists don't end up overwhelming us," said Amos Cecchi, the Florence mobility councillor, a special post created last year to deal with the moving walls of distressed flesh that press into the city of Brunelleschi and Michelangelo every spring and summer.

The measures, which mark the beginning of an effort to provide comprehensive booking packages for tourists covering hotels, museums, restaurants and cultural events, have not made Mr Cecchi particularly popular in Florence, which has seen scores of crowd-control plans come and go without any noticeable success.

The tourists, however, may not mind so much. Anyone who stands patiently in line to get into the Uffizi these days could be forgiven for thinking that Botticelli's Venus rises not from a seashell but atop the bobbing heads of assorted backpackers from Karlsruhe, Osaka and Cleveland, Ohio .

Millions of visitors besiege Florence, Venice and Rome every year and their numbers are rising. In Rome, where the problem is less noticeable because of its size, the authorities have told coach operators that anyone caught parking illegally this summer will have to come to grips with giant sets of wheelclamps specially made to combat the problem.