Rome Bans Food and Drinks in Bid to Preserve Ancient Landmarks

Next time you visit the Eternal City, don't be tempted to stop for a panino.

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Rome - The City Of Tourists

For a people stereotyped by heedless passion and a healthy disregard for rules, the Italians have been getting pretty crazy with their laws recently. Last week the mayor of Rome instituted an executive order that makes stopping to eat or drink along anywhere in the city center — including the area around the first century A.D. Colosseum, the Roman Pantheon, the Baroque Trevi fountain and the 18th century Spanish Steps — an offense punishable by fines of up to $650. Mayor Giovanni Alemanno has had enough of “episodes in contrast with the most elementary norms of urban decorum,” the ordinance read. Rogue elements have “damaged monuments and artistic fountains (…) by dangerously dripping liquids” on them.

Rome, a city of 2.7 million, welcomed 11 million tourists last year; 5.3 million people visited the Colosseum alone, making it Italy‘s most visited tourist site. Tourism is a massive chunk of the city’s economy, with tourists paying high rates for hotel rooms, food and bus tours, as well as a new tax levied on those who choose to spend the night there.

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But supporters of the latest ordinance say further steps are needed to rein in the uncouth hordes of travelers. “The city has fallen to a level of unsustainable vulgarity,” Paolo Gelsomini, spokesperson for the residents activists, told Italy’s La Repubblica, which has dubbed the campaign the “war on the panino” — an Italian-style sandwich. For Gelsomini, the ordinance doesn’t go far enough. “We have an ordinance against alcoholic drinks, one against pub-crawls, one in the future against capri pants, but we still need a new law to give this city back its dignity,” he said.

The Eternal City’s battle over food and drinks is not new. Rome tested a similar ordinance six years ago, and Venice, Bologna and Florence have all introduced similar bans. And the rush to legislate better behavior is spreading: in 2010, a couple was fined more than $400 for sitting on the steps of a monument in Vigevano, near Milan. Eraclea, a coastal city near Venice, has banned the building of sandcastles on its beaches, as well as ball games and the collecting of shells. Further south in Cesena, you can be fined up to $650 for feeding cats. Since 1960, wooden clogs have been forbidden on the picturesque tourist island of Capri. And don’t even think of feeding pigeons in Venice: you’ll be fined $65.

Earlier this summer, Roman officials caused an uproar of protest when they announced the removal of thousands of padlocks on the Ponte Milvio, a bridge across the River Tiber dating back to before the time of Christ. Inspired by a 2006 novel, couples would lock a padlock to the bridge and then throw the key into the river. City officials said they would guard the bridge day and night to prevent further damage to the city’s “decorum”.

Still, some are beginning to fight back. Rome’s ordinance against alcoholic drinks — which bans their consumption after 11 p.m. — was suspended after bar owners went to court against the ordinance. To fight the “anti-panino” decree, a gourmet flash mob descended upon the Piazza del Campidoglio,a Renaissance square designed by Michelangelo, armed with sandwiches, pizza slices and ice-cream cones and holding banners reading “Panino Is Not a Crime.” Five people were fined for eating, the Corriere della Sera reported. “We don’t want our city to be reduced to a lifeless open-air museum,” one unnamed participant said.

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