In a city filled with iconic attractions, Rome’s Spanish Steps are one of the most iconic. Tourists and locals flock to the magnificent baroque landmark, plunking down on the steps and taking a breather from their busy day. Or at least they used to. As Angela Giuffrida reports for the Guardian, Italian authorities are cracking down on what they see as bad behavior that harms the city’s historic center. Among the offenses on the list? Sitting on the Spanish Steps.
This week, according to Giuffrida, police began patrolling the Unesco heritage site, scolding anyone who attempted to take a seat. Those who violate the new rules risk getting hit with a steep fine: €250 (around $280) for sitting on the steps and up to €400 (around $450) should the offender dirty or damage the site, according to Elizabeth Schumacher of Deutsche Welle.
The regulations are part of a broader policy, implemented in June, that seeks to “cut down on antisocial behaviour and disrespectful treatment of the city’s cultural history and monuments,” per the Local Italy. Messy eating near monuments, dragging wheeled suitcases or strollers down historic staircases and posing as ancient centurions for cash are now verboten. Walk around shirtless, sing drunkenly on public transport or imbibe in public after 10 p.m. and you might find yourself paying the price. And don’t even think about taking a dip in any of the city’s historic fountains.
Many Italian destinations have been struggling to deal with tourists, who bring a hefty amount of money but also considerable disruption—garbage, crowds, destructive selfie sticks, to name a few of the worst offenders—when they visit. Venice, which has become especially choked with tourists, plans to start charging entry fees to day-trippers. Cinque Terre has imposed a ticketing system to cap visitors to the region at 1.5 million per year. Florence once tried hosing down the steps of its churches to stop tourists from eating on them—though officials did not account for the fact that the warm Tuscan sun would quickly dry up the water.
Worried about degradation to Rome’s heritage sites, some locals have welcomed the city’s new regulations. “You couldn’t walk around the Metropolitan Museum snacking on food and slurping a Coke,” David Sermoneta, president of the Piazza di Spagna Trinità dei Monti Association, tells Elisabetta Povoledo of the New York Times. “We expect the same for the center of Rome.”
But others feel the measures have gone too far. “We agree that people shouldn’t ‘camp out’ and eat on the steps of monuments, as rubbish gets left behind,” Tommaso Tanzilli, a director at the Rome unit of Federalberghi, the Italian hotels association, says in an interview with Giuffrida. “But criminalising people for sitting down, especially if they are elderly, is a little exaggerated.”
The Spanish Steps, as it happens, are in quite good shape. In 2016, the luxury brand Bulgari paid 1.5 million euros to restore the landmark, sprucing up nearly 32,300 square feet of stone, plaster, brick and marble. While preventing visitors from sitting on the steps might help maintain the site, it could hurt its once-genial, vibrant ambiance. Citing a report in the Italian news agency Adnkronos, the Local notes that on a recent sunny morning, the steps were “practically deserted.”