Museum chief brands tourist-hit Florence a 'prostitute'

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Museum chief brands tourist-hit Florence a 'prostitute'
Is 'hit and run' tourism destroying Florence? Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

Mass tourism has turned Florence into a "prostitute", one of the city's museum directors said Monday, sparking outrage from politicians including Italy's culture minister.


"Once a city becomes a prostitute, it is difficult for it to become a virgin again," Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Accademia Gallery that houses Michelangelo's statue of David, told reporters on the sidelines of an event.

"Florence is very beautiful and I would like it to return to its citizens and not be crushed by tourism," the German historian added, complaining about a lack of normal shops in streets filled with souvenirs.

But "it is already too late," she said, according to La Repubblica daily, warning that if there was not an "absolute" brake on numbers, "I do not see any more hope".

READ ALSO: Why Italy needs a national plan for sustainable tourism - before it’s too late

The Gallery later issued a statement in which Hollberg apologised "for having used the wrong words" about "a city that I love".

"What I meant to say is that Florence must be a witness for all of Italy of an increasingly conscious tourism, not 'hit and run' tourism," she said.

Tourists take pictures in front of Santa Maria Novella basilica in Florence in 2017. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

But Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said her words were "serious and offensive" to Florence and the whole of Italy -- and threatened to take action, saying he would "evaluate all appropriate initiatives" under current legislation.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's nationalist government has been accused of seeking to promote more Italians into top cultural roles, as well as more people sympathetic to her right-wing views.

READ ALSO: Has Florence banned new Airbnb rentals in the city centre?

Last year, ministers approved a change that forces opera chiefs to leave their jobs when they reach 70 years old, a measure widely viewed as a way to remove some foreigners from their posts.


The deputy mayor of Florence, Alessia Bettini, also weighed in against Hollberg, saying that if the city was a prostitute, "are then Florentines the children of a prostitute, and tourists clients of a prostitute?"

Former premier Matteo Renzi, a senator for Florence, said Hollberg "should apologise or resign".

The gallery director is the latest official in Italy to express concern about the impact of overtourism, particularly in cities such as Florence - where the historic centre is packed with crowds for much of the year - and Venice.

After the UN's cultural organisation warned it could lose its prized heritage status, Venice last year announced plans to test a ticketing scheme to seek to control numbers, which begins in April.


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Patrick Cecere 2024/01/31 18:08
She certainly could have phrased it more delicately... but that doesn't mean she's wrong. Florence is without a doubt a beautiful little city with outstanding cultural treasures, that has unfortunately become a victim of itself. I've been avoiding it for years because of the crowds. Fortunately, Italy is loaded with worthwhile alternatives without the wall to wall people.
James 2024/01/31 16:02
The reality is that Dr Hollberg is right. Florence is on the verge of becoming uninhabitable for anyone beyond a day tourist. I would have expected more of our mayor than asking for her apology or resignation. Cecilie Hollberg is the best director that the Accademia has ever had, she is beyond amazing. To ask her to apologize for telling the truth is simply awful.
Arturo 2024/01/30 19:33
Italy's most prominent cities are rapidly losing their character. Too many tourists; too many short-term rentals. Natives have largely departed for the countryside. Small shops are disappearing, replaced by tourist shops. Until the pandemic, Lucca had been largely spared but now, Lucca is also going the way of Florence and Pisa. Soon, it will also be elbow to elbow. There is such a thing as "too much" and we have reached that point.
Mike 2024/01/30 18:46
My wife and I have visited Florence four times since 2004. It is an extraordinary city in so many ways. But when we were deciding on a place to stay for a long time, we headed south to Puglia. Our last visit to Florence was in November 2021. We were stunned to find the historic center jammed with tourists, many of them in large groups visiting for the day. Streets that we once enjoyed walking down, viewing shops with wonderful displays of fabrics or stationary or food, were now lined with shops selling stuff for tourists. It would be an act of political courage to return the city to something that the citizens themselves can enjoy. Venice should be enough of a warning about what mass tourism can cost a city.

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