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Florence church steps hosed down to deter tourists

High pressure approach taken by city's mayor

Ravneet Ahluwalia
Thursday 01 June 2017 15:07 BST
Santa Croce in less hectic times
Santa Croce in less hectic times (Getty Images)

Tourists in Florence were hit with a wet warning by the city’s mayor yesterday as part of a crackdown to restore ‘decorum’ at historic sites.

Visitors to Florence’s Santa Croce basilica were ordered to stop snacking on the steps before a squad of street cleaners hosed them down. The move has been introduced to prevent people picnicking at the Renaissance jewel, as growing numbers of tourists have led to trails of rubbish lining the streets.

“By washing the steps every lunchtime we hope they will be too wet for tourists to lounge on, but we also hope the cleaning will encourage tourists to treat them with more respect,” a city spokeswoman said. “We don’t aim to hose down the tourists themselves.”

It’s a citywide problem, with the lack of public benches in the centre of Florence forcing weary sightseers to hit kerbs and steps as they refresh themselves. Santa Croce, which contains the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli is not the only site to be watered. The steps of Chiesa di Santo Spirito were also hosed down in the lunchtime water party. And the mayor plans to extend the hosing to the streets of the city centre - a UNESCO world heritage site.

The city centre of Florence is a UNESCO protected site (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The balance between welcoming tourists and preserving the appeal of popular attractions is a pressing issue for the whole of Italy. Visitor numbers are at a record high of 56 million a year, up 55 per cent from 2001. A combination of cheap flights, affordable rental accommodation through sites such as airbnb and the lack of a major terrorist attack has helped to swell the figures. Florence alone now has 12 million visitors a year.

Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella said he values tourism but also wants the city to be respected. “Tourism is a huge resource, but we need to protect the beauty of the city and enforce the law. Better a bit of water on the steps than dishing out fines for picnicking.

“People don’t want to see empty bottles and greasy church steps. If we get a reputation for being rubbish-strewn, we lose the quality tourists. We want to put people off from camping out. If they sit down, they’ll get wet. Instead of imposing fines, we thought this measure was more elegant.”

The quirky approach to keeping the city clean unfortunately hit a minor bump in the searing summer heat - the soaked steps were dry within half an hour and tourists were asked to not sit down by police. “We’re still experimenting, but we may have to have a second go with the hoses,” said Nardella.

In the three years since he became mayor Nardella has become known for his innovative interventions. In 2016 he introduced regulations forcing restaurants to use products typical of Tuscany after becoming concerned about the spread of fast-food outlets targeting tourists. He also blocked an application by McDonald’s to open an outlet in the historic Piazza del Duomo, prompting the company to sue for £15.5 million in damages.

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