This Italian Town Silenced a Historic Bell That Kept Tourists Awake. Now, Locals Can’t Sleep

The bell battle in Pienza, located in Tuscany, is just the latest example of Italy’s tourism troubles

Historic city center and bell tower in Pienza
Pienza's historic city center, which Pope Pius II redesigned in the 15th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ken Welsh / UCG / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The bells of a clock tower in the historic Italian town of Pienza have been ringing for more than 500 years. Recently, however, town officials got so many complaints from tourists that they decided to silence the sounds from midnight through 7 a.m.

Tourists visiting the town in southern Tuscany may be able to sleep better, but longtime residents are upset about the change.

“We were born there, we heard [the bells] in the middle of the night,” one resident tells RAI, a state broadcaster, per Google Translate. “In absolute silence, they were a sign of vitality.”

Some residents say that “they are struggling to sleep without the regular tolling that they have been accustomed to hearing all their lives,” writes the Independent’s Helen Coffey.

Manolo Garosi, Pienza’s mayor, defended the change, adding that a 2017 rule aimed at curbing noise pollution mandated quiet during the night. Town leaders also started getting more and more complaints roughly a year and a half ago, when they “digitalized the sound of the bell striking,” he tells CNN’s Julia Buckley and Issy Ronald.

The complaints often came from American tourists, particularly those staying at accommodations near the bell tower, reports the Telegraph’s Nick Squires. Many of Pienza’s bed and breakfasts do not have air conditioning, so travelers have likely been keeping the windows open—which would’ve made the bell sound even louder.

“We are not the only ones to do this,” Garosi tells the Telegraph. “Other towns that have bell towers have done just the same thing.”

Pienza has long been a popular tourist destination. During the 15th century, Pope Pius II renovated the town’s historic center and changed its name from Corsignano to Pienza. The UNESCO World Heritage Site also has charming cobblestone streets and views of Tuscany’s countryside.

The battle over Pienza’s historic bell is just the latest example of the challenges caused by rising tourism numbers in Italy. Travelers have been caught defacing the historic Colosseumpushing a scooter down Rome’s Spanish Steps, surfing in Venice’s Grand Canal and destroying sculptures in the Vatican Museum.

Are badly behaving tourists getting worse? Some say their behavior is amplified because travelers are flocking to the country in large numbers as the Covid-19 restrictions have eased. According to one estimate, some 56 million international travelers visited the country in 2022, and that number is expected to grow.

“They’re behaving as they’ve always behaved, it’s just that … the numbers have returned to what they were pre-pandemic and that corresponds to an increase in boorish behavior,” said Gianfranco Zarantonello, Venice’s chief commissioner, per CNN’s Buckley.

Scott Hartbeck of TravelPulse has a few other theories.

“Perhaps we've just done such a remarkable job of recreating Italy at amusement parks, shopping malls and on the Vegas Strip over the last few decades that tourists subconsciously think they’re in a theme park when they are there—and act accordingly,” he writes. “Or is it just the fact that this country is so breathtaking, so visually stunning, that seeing it in person just simply short-circuits some people’s brains?”

Whatever the reason, Italy’s leaders have had to crack down by implementing new rules and penalties for offenses ranging from vandalism to lingering. The country is also launching travel initiatives—including new rail routes—to help manage overtourism.

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