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No more sitting on the Spanish Steps? Rome cracks down on tourist crowds

Rome's 'tourist police' have been moving people on from the famous Spanish Steps as part of a crackdown on unruly visitors, witnesses say.

No more sitting on the Spanish Steps? Rome cracks down on tourist crowds
The Spanish Steps are usually a popular spot for a rest. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

“Get up everyone, it's the rules: you can't sit here,” a journalist for Adnkronos reported hearing police telling the crowds on the iconic stairway that leads from the church of Trinità dei Monti to Piazza di Spagna in the heart of Rome's historic centre.

At mid morning the 135 steps, usually filled round the clock with people taking pictures or simply a rest, were practically deserted, the reporter said. He counted eight police officers moving people along.

The patrols are part of Rome's latest crackdown on bad behaviour in the city centre, timed to coincide with the peak tourist season.


Police patrol the base of the Spanish Steps. Photo: Marie-Laure Messana/AFP

Under the new rules, in force since the beginning of June, police can impose stiffer fines for everything from bathing in fountains to dragging wheelie suitcases down historic steps, going shirtless to putting your mouth too close to public water fountains.

Ticket touts, unauthorized food and drink vendors, leaders of pub crawls and people who dress up as Roman centurions also risk a penalty.

While the rules on sitting aren't entirely clear, the ordinance includes special protections for Unesco sites such as the Spanish Steps, where visitors are banned from leaving any rubbish, graffiti or other damage – on pain of having to clean it up themselves. 

There's also an “anti-bivouac” clause that can potentially include anything from bedding down at historic sites to having a picnic – or, apparently, sitting down.

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While police have long handed out fines for clambering into fountains or boozing at famous landmarks, the latest rules set even stiffer penalties: at least €400 for damaging any part of Rome's heritage, and up to €450 for bathing in a fountain. Other bad behaviour can earn a fine anywhere between €100-400, and potentially a Daspo (or anti-social behaviour order) temporarily banning the offender from the city centre.

But are police being overzealous by stopping people from sitting down? 

“So long as some tourists – not all – continue to behave excessively, like those who damage the Colosseum by carving their names into it or bathe in our historic fountains, applying the rules rigorously, like in this case, is understandable,” local councillor Anna Vincenzoni told Adnkronos

“The steps are a work of art, and you don't sit on works of art,” agreed the head of a local residents' association, Gianni Battistoni, who said it was too difficult to stop people eating and drinking on the staircase any other way.

“People come, pass through and leave. We can finally say that the steps have been given back to the city,” he said. 

One prominent art critic and commentator, however, called the measure “excessive, practically fascist”. “Since time immemorial passing travellers have sat on the steps and admired the landscape,” said Vittorio Sgarbi.

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ROME

Body of missing American tourist found in Rome’s River Tiber

The body of a missing 21-year-old tourist was found in the River Tiber on Thursday morning, according to media reports.

Body of missing American tourist found in Rome's River Tiber

Elijah Oliphant, from Dallas, Texas, was on holiday with his family in Rome when he went missing several days ago.

Oliphant’s parents reported his disappearance after he left his hotel room shortly after midnight on May 24th and did not return.

Hotel security footage showed him leaving the premises wearing a white undershirt and pyjama bottoms, which he was wearing when he was found.

Oliphant’s corpse was reportedly spotted by passersby near the Ponte Sisto bridge in Rome’s Trastevere district around 10am on Thursday morning. His body was positively identified by his parents.

Members of the fire brigade and river police who recovered the body say there were no obvious signs of violence, but an autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death. Trastevere police are reportedly investigating the matter.

The Oliphant family had arrived in Rome for a holiday on May 23rd. When Elijah went missing the following day, his parents launched an urgent appeal to help find their son.

His disappearance was featured on the missing persons television show, Chi l’ha visto (‘Who’s seen them?’) on May 25th.

Several foreigners have been found drowned in the Tiber in recent years, though there are no indication that any of the incidents are linked.

In 2016, the body of 19-year-old American student Beau Solomon was recovered from the river.

Rough sleeper Massimo Galioto was charged involuntary manslaughter in the case, but was ultimately acquitted in 2020.

Prosecutors said that Galioto pushed Solomon in the course of a violent argument. Galioto’s defense team acknowledged that the two had argued but said the student had accidentally slipped.

In May 2019, 37-year-old Imen Chatbouri, a former athletics champion from Tunisia, was found dead in the Tiber after a night out. CCTV footage later showed she had been pushed from the Ponte Sisto bridge.

A then-26-year-old man whose advances she had rejected earlier that evening was convicted of her murder in November 2021.

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