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Italian anti-mafia photographer Letizia Battaglia dies aged 87

Legendary Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia, whose shots of bullet-riddled bodies captured the dark world of the Sicilian mafia, has died aged 87.

Italian anti-mafia photographer Letizia Battaglia dies aged 87
Letizia Battaglia pictured at an exhibition of her work in Toulouse, southwest France, in 2016. Photo by ERIC CABANIS / AFP

Prize-winning Battaglia, who would speed to the scene of murders in the 1980s on her Vespa to bear witness to the violence, blew away the romanticised and sanitised image of the Cosa Nostra.

Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando said her death late Wednesday had deprived his city, the Sicilian capital, of “an extraordinary woman” who played “an emblematic part in the process of freeing Palermo from the mafia’s control”.

Battaglia, an anti-mafia campaigner who became a local politician in Palermo and then a regional Sicilian assembly member, started out in the photo department of a local daily newspaper.

“You could have five murders in the same day,” she said in 2006, when a collection of her photographs of organised crime slayings went on show in a Rome exhibition.

“The work was exhausting but you couldn’t stand by with your arms folded, with our little mafia on our little island.

“We had to bear witness to this violence and the world had to know.”

An exhibition of Letizia Battaglia’s work at Palazzo Fontana di Trevi in Rome, in 2006. Photo by GIULIO NAPOLITANO / AFP

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini mourned Thursday, “A great photographer, a great Italian woman who, with her art and her photographs, engaged in important struggles of denunciation and civil commitment.”

Battaglia’s pictures show a small street in Palermo, the interior of an apartment, the white wall of a pork butcher’s shop, a garage ramp, the back of a bus, a car seat.

They all have one thing in common: captured in black and white is a body lying on the ground near a pool of blood, or a face torn apart by a bullet.

Letizia Battaglia’s ‘Arrest of Mafia boss Leoluca Gagarella, Palermo, 1980″ on exhibition in Rome in 2006. Photo by GIULIO NAPOLITANO / AFP

It was the era when the Corleone clan fought their way to power, headed by boss Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano – who were finally caught last month after decades on the run.

From judges regarded as too interfering or local politicians to young drug dealers, the “Palermo war” left hundreds dead in the space of a few years, often gunned down in broad daylight and in public places.

Battaglia’s pictures are unsparing. Faces of the dead are shown with eyes wide open, surprised by death. Friends and relatives lament, while onlookers crowd round the scene with expressions of curiosity or resignation.

In 2006, she said those bloody times may be gone, but the mafia is not.

The Rome exhibition, she said, was “a cry for help, because the consequences for our island of the mafia are as unbearable as ever”.

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ROME

Tourist fined €450 for swim in Rome’s Trevi Fountain

With the return of tourism and scorching temperatures, Rome’s fountains are once again attracting visitors hoping to cool off with a midnight swim.

Tourist fined €450 for swim in Rome's Trevi Fountain

In the latest incident, a 26-year-old Spanish man was fined 450 euros after taking a dip in the Trevi Fountain in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Rome’s city police apprehended and fined the man after he was spotted swimming in the 18th-century monument at around 5am, according to local media reports.

READ ALSO: How to keep cool like an Ancient Roman in Italy’s summer heat

Every summer, hapless foreign visitors face fines of hundreds of euros after falling foul of Rome’s strict ban on taking a dip in public fountains – with the city mayor warning tourists that the centuries-old Baroque monuments are “not swimming pools”.

In April, two Dutch tourists also faced fines totalling over €1,000 after their own ill-advised splash in the Trevi Fountain.

The Roman landmark is one of the city’s main magnets for badly-behaved visitors, but tourists have also been fined after cooling off in the Santa Maria fountain in Trastevere, believed to be the city’s oldest. 

Since 2018, anyone caught misbehaving at Rome’s monuments can also face a temporary ‘Daspo’ ban from the area – similar to an ASBO (anti-social behaviour order) in the UK – which allows city police to restrict the movement of people they deem a threat to public order.

READ ALSO: From selfie brawls to midnight swims: Tourists behaving badly at the Trevi Fountain

But a plan to erect a one-metre-high glass and steel barrier around the Trevi fountain to protect it from unruly visitors now appears to have been abandoned after arts and heritage experts called the idea “foolish”.

Fines for swimming in the fountains have been in place since 2015, but this hasn’t stopped determined visitors from recreating scenes from La Dolce Vita and even some locals from taking a dip – – with or without their clothes.

Swimming in the wrong place is just one of the offences regularly committed by visitors, with graffiti and vandalism a common problem at many of Italy’s famous monuments.

READ ALSO: 15 strange ways to get into trouble on holiday in Italy

In Rome alone, this year tourists have made headlines for everything from breaking into the Colosseum to enjoy a drink with a view to driving a car down the Spanish Steps.

Other Italian tourism hotspots, including Florence and Venice, also have varying local rules in place aimed at curbing rowdy behaviour.

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