Venice Declares War on Tourists
Ah, Venice – La Serenissma. La Dominante. The City of Bridges, of Masks, and Canals. The Grande Dame of the Adriatic. But has La Serenisima lost its “serenity?” That all depends. If being fined €25 to €500 for eating an ice cream cone in public – and then being banned from the “scene of the crime,” or €250 for sporting anything that could be described as “swimwear,” €100 for riding (or walking) a bicycle, or €25-€500 for feeding pigeons or seagulls enhances peace, repose, tranquility, quietude, or calmness – then no.
On the other hand, if the sure knowledge that squads of disaffected malcontent local residents are prowling the bridges, squares, monuments, and museums of Venice with the express purpose of ratting out privileged tourists to local police patrols – is more apt to cause unrest, unquietness, tumult and pandemonium? Then yes.
Last summer, the Venice City Council enacted a wide-range of anti-tourist regulations, with fines ranging from €25 to €500 to punish “anti-social behaviour”. Almost immediately, two German backpackers were spotted by local residents and reported to local police. Their crime? Sitting down near the Rialto Bridge above the water’s edge, and brewing a cup of coffee over a collapsible fuel tab stove. Their punishment? A fine of €950 and being banned from Venice.
Just what constitutes anti-social behaviour in La Serenissima? You’ll need to look it up online, but the list is wide-ranging. Noisy parties, eating or drinking outside of designated areas, pulling luggage with wheels, sunbathing in public parks, driving a boat (or walking in town) without your shirt. Heck – you can even be fined for lingering too long on a bridge, or laying down on a park bench, or picnicking (anywhere).
The bans were accomplished by urban refinements of Divieto di Accedere alle manifestazioni sportive (DASPO) legislation. Originally designed to ban access to sporting events to prevent violence at stadiums, Urban DASPOs temporarily exclude “individuals engaging in behaviours considered a possible threat to public order, safety, morality, or decency” from “specific localities”. This last September, the Italian Constitutional Court declared DASPO Urbano overreach unconstitutional. But the battle lines have been drawn.
Venetian Mayor Luigi Brugnaro makes no bones about it – the fines, along with tourist taxes and entry fees, were just “a starting point”. According to Brugnaro, “Venice must be respected. Bad-mannered people who think they can come here and do what they want must understand that, thanks to local police, they will be caught, punished (and expelled).” He didn’t mention that they’d be financially pilloried for all they were worth, and stopped short of lauding the bands of local Venetian vigilantes whose new-found pastime seems to be terrorising tourists.
The mayor has even installed turnstiles within the city to “regulate access,” and structured escalating fees to cover “high traffic concentrations”.
Under the guise of addressing over-tourism and protecting ancient landmarks, the city fathers have in effect declared war on tourists. Not on their dollars, euros, rubles, yen, or whatever. They want more – much more of those. They’ve declared war on the tourists themselves. The city will continue to price-gouge, pickpocket, and prey upon gullible visitors – they’ve just legalised additional predation by placing cover charges on the privilege of being preyed upon. And with the national courts restricting bans and expulsions, the city gets to run the offending tourists through additional gauntlets of fees and fines until they leave on their accord.
To date, hundreds of tourists and other outsiders have been fined, banned and/or banished from Venice. While not a particularly high number of victims, considering the tens of thousands of visitors in a given week, still – a rather poor reward for those foolish enough to spend their time and treasure, expecting to have a good time in Venice. No – La Serenissima is dead. Prepare to defend yourself from La Dominante.