A ban on tourists sitting on Rome’s famous Spanish Steps has divided the capital, with critics describing it as excessive and even “Fascist”.
Under new rules, police have started telling tourists they can no longer sit on the 135 steps, which sweep from the imposing church of Trinita de’ Monti down to Piazza di Spagna in the heart of the city.
Police began patrolling the 18th-century marble steps on Tuesday, blowing whistles at those sitting down. The monument, a Unesco world heritage site, has long been the ideal resting spot for tired visitors and holds a special allure at sunset.
Visitors who defy the ban can be fined 250, which increases to 400 if they have dirtied or damaged the stone staircase, which was made famous by the 1953 romantic comedy?Roman Holiday, starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.
The new rules are an attempt to stop tourists eating and drinking on the Steps.
The monument was cleaned and restored three years ago, with the 1.5 million project funded by Bulgari, the jewelers.
Cleaners removed stains left by spilt wine and coffee as well as wads of chewing gum.
But the ban has been condemned as too stringent. Vittorio Sgarbi, a high-profile art critic and cultural heritage expert, said: “The rule is excessive, almost Fascist. Of course the monument should be protected and people should not eat on the steps, but banning tourists from sitting down is really excessive. It seems a bit Fascist to me.”
A hoteliers’ association also criticised the ban. “Banning people from sitting down seems a bit much,” said Giuseppe Roscioli, the president of the Federalberghi association. “Tourists should be allowed to rest a bit after walking around the city.”
But it was welcomed by business owners in the area, which is crammed with brands such as Gucci and Prada.
“This is a small return to civility,” said Gianni Battistoni, the president of an association of businesses. “To try to check who is damaging the monument by eating and drinking, you would need a police officer for every tourist.”
Better to have a blanket ban on tourists sitting down, he told?La Stampa?newspaper.
Viviana Di Capua, the head of an association of residents of the historic centre of Rome, said: “Rome needs to be respected and people need to understand that not everything is allowed.”
Davide Sermoneta, the head of an association of business owners in the area, said many tourists were badly behaved. “They don’t understand that they are in a city of history and beauty.”
After the restoration of the Spanish Steps in 2016, there were calls for fences to be installed at the top and bottom and for them to be locked every night. But the idea was rejected by Rome city council.
The sweeping steps were built between 1723 and 1726 by the architect Francesco de Sanctis.
Florence has tried to prevent tourists from sitting on the steps of historic churches by routinely hosing them down to make them wet and uncomfortable.
This fine comes on the heels of other recent Italian preservation efforts: swimming banned in Trevi fountain; Florence's eating-in-the-streets ban; and, most recently, Venice's decision to stop letting huge cruise ships dock in the city's historic center.
Venice also struggles with slovenly behaviour by the millions of tourists who visit each year and has stiff fines for people who jump in canals or off bridges, or picnic in public places.
Last month, two German tourists were fined 950 for brewing up cups of coffee on a camping stove beneath Venice’s famous Rialto bridge.
While some recent moves seem to be a direct attempt to curb overtourism, this particular fine is aimed squarely at preservation.
Park benches, sidewalk cafes and terraces welcome tired travelers, encouraging guests to sit and stay awhile.
Historic monuments, however, serve a different purpose, one that does not invite weary travelers to relax in the space but rather to respect it.