Return of tourism in Italy coincides with bad news stories.
The tourism industry in Italy boomed over the summer season, after two difficult years due to covid, as tourist numbers edged up on pre-pandemic levels.
However the full-scale return of foreign visitors has brought with it a flurry of ‘bad news’ stories, lapped up by the international media, of tourists misbehaving in Italy.
The latest episode occurred on 5 October when a 65-year-old American citizen, born in Egypt, was arrested in the Vatican Museums for toppling two ancient Roman busts in the Chiaramonti Gallery.
The man reportedly became enraged after being informed that it would not be possible for him to meet Pope Francis. He reacted by flinging one of the busts onto the ground, while another one fell as he fled the scene. The man was swiftly detained by Vatican police who later handed him over to Italian authorities.
The artefacts reportedly suffered minor damage and are already under restoration, a process that will cost €15,000 and take up to 350 hours to complete, according to the Adnkronos news agency.
Most of this year’s “tourists behaving badly” incidents occurred over the summer, however the first such headline was generated on 22 April when two Dutch tourists took a quick afternoon dip in the Trevi Fountain. Afterwards the men, both in their 30s, mingled in the crowds in an unsuccessful attempt to evade police who fined them a total of €1,000.
During the same period an Argentinian tourist was fined after he crashed his drone into the roof of Palazzo Venezia in Rome’s city centre, days after Mexican tourists hit the Leaning Tower of Pisa with a drone.
Things stepped up a gear on 10 May when a Saudi tourist drove a Maserati down the Spanish Steps, damaging the Baroque staircase. The motorist, described by local media as a 37-year-old Saudi businessman, had been in the capital on vacation.
The driver tried to reverse back up the steps, then called a tow truck, before managing to get the car back onto the road with the help of some passersby. He left Rome and continued his Italian holiday in the Maserati which he had rented from a dealer in Milan, where police caught up with him.
“Yes, it was me who drove the car down the Spanish Steps” – the man told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera – “I just took a wrong turn”. He added that he didn’t think the incident was “so serious” but pledged that he was “ready to face his responsibilities”.
The man faces charges of aggravated damage to a cultural heritage site, in addition to an undisclosed fine, and reportedly risks court proceedings in Italy. The damage caused by his “wrong turn” was repaired subsequently by experts from Rome’s superintendence of cultural heritage.
On 10 June, the Spanish Steps were back in the news again when a 28-year-old American tourist flung an electric scooter down the marble staircase in an apparent fit of anger. The late-night incident was filmed by a passerby and the footage quickly went viral.
Italian media reported at the time that the tourist had caused €25,000 worth of damage to Rome’s Spanish Steps which underwent a €1.5 million restoration by luxury fashion house Bvlgari in 2015.
The woman was in the company of a 29-year-old American man who was filmed wheeling his e-scooter down the 18th-century staircase. The pair were fined €400 each and received a temporary ban from returning to the Baroque landmark. It was reported subsequently that the woman could face legal proceedings in Italy.
10 days later it was once again the turn of the old favourite of tourists misbehaving in Rome – the Trevi Fountain. A 26-year-old Spanish tourist received a €450 fine after Rome police caught him swimming around in the fountain’s waters at dawn.
The next month, on 10 July, saw a 23-year-old American tourist fall into the crater of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano looming over Naples, while taking a selfie. The incident occurred after the tourist and three of his relatives decided to bypass the visitor entrance to the volcano and take a forbidden route to the summit.
The man, who fell several metres into the crater after losing his balance, was rescued by carabinieri and received treatment for his light injuries from emergency services. The tourist and his family were then reported by police, along with two other visitors, for taking the prohibited route which was clearly marked as highly dangerous and out-of-bounds.
Carving into the Colosseum
Two days later Rome police caught up with a 30-year-old Canadian tourist after she used a stone to carve the initials of her name into an external wall of the Colosseum.
The woman was stopped by Colosseum staff who notified the carabinieri after witnessing the vandalism taking place. The tourist, who reportedly expressed regret for her actions, was cited for causing damage to a monument of historical and cultural importance.
- Italy’s Battle with Problem Tourists
Perhaps the most unfortunate tourist mishap occurred in Rome on 24 July, in the middle of a heatwave, when a British visitor was fined €500 for dipping his feet in the boat-shaped Barcaccia fountain near the base of the Spanish Steps.
The tourist, aged 42, was caught in the act by police who in addition to the hefty fine issued the man with a temporary daspo ban from returning to the area.
Later in the month, on 30 July, three German tourists were fined more than €1,500 for bathing in Bernini’s Tritone fountain in the central Piazza Barberini. The incident occurred late at night after the three men were caught splashing about in their underwear in the 17th-century fountain.
On 11 August police in Pompeii apprehended a 33-year-old Australian tourist driving a rental moped around the archaeological park. The man had entered the site through the Porta Vesuvio gate and was stopped by the carabinieri who cited him for unauthorised access.
Management at Pompeii clarified later that the incident involved the tourist travelling on external dirt roads – normally used by service vehicles – and not within the walls of the ancient city.
One of the most high-profile incidents this summer happened in Venice over the Ferragosto holiday in mid-August when two men were filmed zipping down the Grand Canal on motorised surf boards.
Footage of the surreal incident was published on the Twitter page of Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro who offered dinner to whoever could identify the two “arrogant idiots” in the video.
The men were subsequently identified as two Australian tourists who were fined €1,500 each and “expelled” from the city. Their boards, valued at around €25,000 were confiscated too. It is unclear if anyone got the mayor’s free dinner.
Just a few weeks later, on 8 September, Venice police arrested a Belgian tourist after he stole a water taxi from the city’s Marco Polo airport and took it for a high-speed joy ride down the Grand Canal.
By Andy Devane
A shorter version of this article was published in the September online edition of Nemo magazine. Cover image: Spanish Steps, credit: lornet / Shutterstock.com.