A step too far? Venice is considering a ‘sitting ban’ in public spaces

Greg Dickinson

The mayor of Venice has suggested banning people from sitting down in undesignated parts of the city as part of an ongoing campaign to control tourist behaviour.

Mayor Luigi Brugnaro will put the proposal to a vote in the city council this October. If it goes through, tourists who break the rules could be stopped by officials and face a fine of between €50 and €500.

Tourists are already banned from sitting down in certain parts of Venice, such as the tourist epicentre of St Mark’s Square and on the steps of Rialto Bridge. This is just one rule in the council’s #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign, introduced in 2017, which also prohibits public picnics, jumping into the canals, dropping litter, wearing inappropriate clothing such as swimwear, feeding the pigeons and riding bicycles anywhere in Venice.

Visitors are also banned from camping in the city, defacing public property with graffiti, placing padlocks on bridges or monuments and buying fake goods from illegal street vendors. The latter point is part of the Foreign Office's advice, which states: “Illegal traders operate on the streets of all major Italian cities, particularly tourist cities like Florence, Venice and Rome. Don’t buy from illegal street traders. You could be stopped by the local police and fined.”

To enforce the respect campaign the city council last year rolled out a team of 22 ‘decorum angels’ who patrol Venice’s most popular sights.

Speaking to Telegraph Travel, Venice’s councillor for tourism Paolo Mar explained the thinking behind the campaign. “Venice is unique, it’s a special city and people can have fun here. But they need to understand that Venice is not a beach. It is an important, fragile city. So when people come to Venice, they need to know the rules.”

One of the ‘decorum angels’ patrolling St Mark's Square explained the importance of the rules to us. “We’re trying to keep up these rules in order to give you a better Venice. We understand that the rules might seem a little bit harsh and might make the experience less enjoyable, but we do this to preserve Venice as it always has been and to try to keep it alive as long as possible.”

However, the mooted ‘sitting ban’ has received backlash from residents' group Gruppo April 25 and activists from Occupy Venice. Campaigner Tommaso Cacciari said: “It’s not a problem of respect if a young person doesn’t have much money and eats a sandwich on the steps. To respect Venice you should put a limit on the apartments and the flats that you can put on the tourist market. #EnjoyRespectVenezia is just a propaganda campaign.”

The #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign was launched in 2017 Credit: istock

Cacciari was part of the group of locals who tore down the crowd-control barriers that were introduced in Venice earlier this year. “When they put up the barriers we went and threw them away. And we will do this every time that they try to put this kind of thing up. It has nothing to do with controlling mass tourism. We’re not in a zoo, we’re not animals. That was a symbolic operation to put a gate at the entrance. I will not bring my son up in a place where he has to show a document to get inside,” he said.

On top of taking a picnic and riding a bicycle, it is also illegal to paint in the city without a permit. In August Venetian police were accused of being overly zealous after ordering an acclaimed British artist to pack up his easel and stop painting in St Mark’s Square. The 86-year-old artist Ken Howard, OBE, was sheltering from the rain beneath the portico of the Procuratie, a palace that flanks one side of the square, when police approached him and told him to move on.

Police defended the officers’ intervention. “They acted correctly. It was raining and lots of people were trying to pass along the portico of the Procuratie,” said Marco Agostini, the commander of the municipal police. “He should have asked for permission. There are rules and they need to be respected by everyone.”

The issue of tourists sitting in public isn’t just a nuisance but, according to local resident Deirdre Kelly, it may be unhygienic for them too. Kelly, an artist living in the less-visited sestiere of Cannaregio, told Telegraph Travel:  “I came out my front door to find a small family having a picnic on the ground. I would never sit there, because I know that rats pass by there during the night.”

Venice isn't the only Italian city clamping down on tourist behaviour. Authorities in Florence recently banned visitors from eating fast food on the pavement and in shop doorways in certain parts of the city. Tourists who flout the rules, which came into effect on September 5th, will face a fine of up to €500.

What do you think? Is it important to ban people from sitting down in Venice, or has is the city being ruined by so many rules? Leave your comment below and join the conversation.