Has Florence really been 'crushed' by mass tourism?

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Has Florence really been 'crushed' by mass tourism?
Tourists take pictures in front of Florence's Santa Maria Novella cathedral. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

After the director of Florence's most famous museum caused outrage by saying mass tourism has turned the city into a "prostitute", The Local's readers in the city say she has a point - and politicians should listen before it's too late.


Italy's culture minister led angry calls for an apology this week after the German director of Florence's Accademia Gallery branded the city a "prostitute" over its tourist crowds and their impact.

"Once a city becomes a prostitute, it is difficult for it to become a virgin again," Cecilie Hollberg told reporters on Monday.

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

Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said her comments were "serious and offensive", and threatened to take action against her, saying he would "evaluate all appropriate initiatives" available under law.

Local politicians too were outraged, with Florence's deputy mayor asking: "are 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".

Hollberg did apologise shortly afterwards "for having used the wrong words," but stressed that "Florence must be a witness for all of Italy of an increasingly conscious tourism, not 'hit and run' tourism."

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

While politicians focused on the language used, many Florence visitors and residents instead said the message was important. In fact, The Local's readers commenting on the news story voiced unanimous support for Hollberg.

"The politicians demanding an apology should stop focusing on the choice of words and instead heed the message," commented one of The Local's readers. "The museum director gives an accurate assessment of what tourism can do."


Reader James commented: "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."

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

Mike said he and his wife had visited Florence four times since 2004 and find it "an extraordinary city", but on their last visit in 2021 the couple "were stunned to find the historic centre 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," he noted.

"It would be an act of political courage to return the city to something that the citizens themselves can enjoy."


And it's not just Florence. Mass tourism has had a negative impact on a number of Italian cities, readers agreed, with many citing Venice as the prime example as the floating city's population continues to dwindle.

"Italy's most prominent cities are rapidly losing their character," said reader Arturo, adding that the nearby Tuscan city of Lucca was "also going the way of Florence and Pisa. Soon, it will also be elbow to elbow."

Do you agree or disagree with the opinions expressed in this article? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.


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Philip R. Piccigallo, Rose M. Giambrone-Piccigallo 2024/02/01 11:56
My wife and I have traveled regularly and extensively to Florence since 1995. We love the city. Unfortunately, Florence has changed dramatically: massive short term tourism, silly rental bike/EScooter/golf cart tours in Centro's main piazzas, and unabated expansion of AirBNBs have substantively diminished if not ruined Florence 's historical and cultural charm. We were planning to live and buy a home here, but are leaving, sadly. Dr. Philip R. Piccigallo and Rose M. Giambrone-Piccigallo
Ron Melé 2024/02/01 11:14
I'm an Italian citizen but live in the US. I've been to Florence numerous times, the most recent in May 2023. Over the years I've seen the tourist crowds get thicker and thicker, to the point that it's hard to get around il Duomo or any of the other historic places without being inundated with obnoxious tourist, buxters, pickpockets, panhandlers, trinket sellers, etc. Gone is the allure of an ancient Italian city. I am not sure what the solution is...but to allow unregulated masses of tourists, from all nations, is a mistake. We need to get this under control and preserve the culture and originality of Florence, and other cities, and not succumb to the allure of the tourism dollar, er, euro.
linda clarke 2024/02/01 09:42
Absolutely agree. I live here, and avoid the centre for most of the year. Our local hotel, where visiting friends used to stay, closed down just before Christmas after 30 years, driven out by the airbnbs
Cheryl F 2024/01/31 22:30
We have been visiting Florence for the past several years , enjoying walking through all the areas. This past year, when we visited it was overrun with tourists and junky souvenir kiosks. I agree with the director but wonder how you can limit the numbers. Getting rid of the souvenir kiosks is a start. There are so many artisans in Florence that should be supported instead
Claire Bowen 2024/01/31 20:50
Visited Florence before Easter in 2022 & couldn’t believe the crowds standing elbow to elbow in the piazza in front of the Duomo. I feel so sorry for residents of the city and it wasn’t even summer!
Tris Sharp 2024/01/31 17:29
It's really unfortunate, W have a property 50 minutes from Firenze but don't go due to mass tourism. There a man many smaller towns as beautiful and traditional. I guess it's a product of its own success, but you do reap what you sow.

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