Climate Activists Turn Water in Rome’s Trevi Fountain Black

The action was a protest against public subsidies for fossil fuels and called attention to the deadly floods occurring in northern Italy

Protesters hold signs amid water with patches of black
Protesters hold signs during the demonstration in Rome's Trevi Fountain. Ultima Generazione

Activists with the climate group Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) dyed the water in Rome’s Trevi Fountain black on Sunday to protest public subsidies for fossil fuels, per a statement from the organization. 

Videos show members dumping a vegetable-based liquid with charcoal into the fountain and holding signs that read “we won’t pay for fossil [fuels]” as some onlookers clapped and others booed. The protest lasted about 15 minutes before police officers dragged the activists out of the water. All eight were arrested, and the fountain does not appear to have been damaged, reports Shanti Escalante-De Mattei for ARTnews

The protest follows extreme flooding in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, which has killed 14 and left thousands homeless since last week. For months, this region had been experiencing severe drought, and when a bout of unusually heavy rainfall hit, the compacted soil struggled to absorb water. Within 36 hours, some areas had already received about half their typical annual rainfall. Water burst through the banks of more than 20 rivers and led to 280 landslides. Some scientists have linked the event to the climate crisis.

“The horrible tragedy happening now in Emilia-Romagna is a forewarning of the black future that awaits mankind,” Mattia, a 19-year-old who took part in the protest, says in a statement, per Euronews. Mattia also cited the recent World Meteorological Organization report, which predicted the Earth is likely to temporarily exceed the critical 1.5-degree Celsius warming threshold within the next five years.

Rome: climate activists turn Trevi fountain water black

Rome’s mayor, Roberto Gualtieri, condemned the protest and told local media on the scene that the nearly 80,000-gallon fountain would need to be emptied so the dyed water can be disposed of, writes CNN’s Barbie Latza Nadeau. 

“This will involve a significant intervention,” he said, per the publication. “It will cost time, effort and water.”

Members of Ultima Generazione have made headlines recently for gluing themselves to the glass covering Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera at an art gallery in Florence and to the base of a sculpture in the Vatican. These protests have been part of a worldwide trend of activists targeting artwork to bring attention to the climate emergency. The protests are usually strategically planned and don’t damage the art itself. Recently, climate protesters smeared red and black paint on the display case of Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. 

Trevi is the third Roman fountain that members of Ultima Generazione have turned black. The group dumped a similar dye in the city’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in early May and in the Barcaccia fountain in front of the Spanish Steps in April. Neither fountain sustained any long-lasting damage, per ARTnews.

Dying water in the Trevi Fountain was “a serious gesture, a worrying escalation that must be stopped with a safety plan for the monuments and the works of art most at risk in Rome and Lazio,” Luisa Regimenti, councilor for personnel, urban security, local police and local authorities in Italy’s Lazio region, which includes Rome, says in a statement, per CNN.

Ultima Generazione noted in its statement that culturally important sites in Emilia-Romagna, including multiple museums, the Medieval-era Santa Maria del Monte Abbey and a library, have been damaged as a result of the flooding.

After the Barcaccia fountain demonstration, the organization wrote in a tweet, “It is absurd that this gesture shocks you, when we are experiencing a drought emergency that is putting agriculture, energy production in crisis,” reported Rhea Nayyar for Hyperallergic at the time. “How can we accept that we continue to give money to those responsible for pollution and destructive weather?”

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