Starting yesterday, Florence workers have been hosing down the church steps of Renaissance churches such as Santo Spirito, Santa Croce to keep tourists from snacking. Bonus: it keeps the steps clean too.
Fed up with hordes of tourists snacking on the steps of Renaissance churches and lounging in the streets, the mayor of Florence has come up with a radical approach – hose down the surfaces so they are too wet to sit on.
With few public benches in the city centre, visitors sprawl wherever they can find space, munching panini and licking ice creams on street kerbs and the steps of imposing basilicas such as Santo Spirito and Santa Croce. The problem grows worse as the peak tourist season of summer approaches. Dario Nardella, the mayor, pictured, has had enough and has decided from today to deploy council workers armed with high-pressure hoses around the city centre.
The hosing down operation began yesterday at lunchtime. It will be carried out every day, just as tourists start tucking into their sandwiches.
By drenching pavements and other public spaces, Mr Nardella hopes to deter tourists from using them as impromptu picnic spots.
“We’ll be going around at lunchtime, targeting church steps as well as pavements in streets where there are lots of food outlets. There is a double objective – to clean the pavements but also to stop tourists sitting around. If a tourist stays sitting there, they will get wet.
“The historic centre of Florence is a World Heritage site, an open air museum – it’s not a place for impromptu picnics.”
Hosing down public spaces – and possibly tourists – was “an experiment”, the mayor said.
“We’ll see what effect it has.”
During the inaugural hosing, some tourists were surprised at being asked to move and others irritated.
We’ll be going around at lunchtime, targeting church steps as well as pavements in streets where there are lots of food outlets," said Dario Nardella, the mayor.
“This can’t be normal,” a Spanish tourist was heard to say, while an Italian man told the Ansa news agency: “I don’t think it makes much sense. Within a few minutes it will dry out and the tourists will sit down again.”
But when tourists tried to resume their places, they were moved on by police.
The municipal task force will be training its hoses on the steps outside the churches of Santa Croce, where Galileo Galilei and Machiavelli are interred, and Santo Spirito, which was designed by Brunelleschi in the 15th century and described by Bernini as “the most beautiful church in the world.”
But with much of Italy baking in 86F (30C) heat, the water will not take long to evaporate, raising doubts as to the efficacy of the tactic.
Like Venice and Rome, Florence has a love-hate relationship with tourists, welcoming the revenue they bring in but finding itself frequently appalled at the sheer number of visitors and their sometimes uncouth behaviour.
Venice has periodic crackdowns on tourists who wander around bare-chested or take a dip in the Grand Canal, while Rome fights a running battle with visitors who paddle in its marble fountains.
Last year, Florence took action against on the burgeoning number of convenience stores and “mini-markets” crowding its medieval streets. All new restaurants and food shops in the city’s historic centre will have to source at least 70 per cent of their products from Tuscany, a move intended to encourage traditional delicatessens while discouraging burger joints and kebab shops.
Mr Nardella insisted the measures were about preserving the decorum of the city. He said: “When I went to Istanbul to see its beautiful mosques I didn’t sit down in front of the Blue Mosque with a mortadella sandwich and a can of Coke.”