Overtourism and the Italian solution: Travel Weekly
It has been eerily silent lately along the Ponte Vecchio which spans the Arno River at its narrowest point in Florence.
I walked the bridge almost every day when I lived there in the mid-1970s, still trying to imagine its birth as a place to keep smelly butchers and fishmongers away from the delicate nostrils of the townspeople. The current bridge was completed in 1345.
Later, Ferdinand I, one of the Medici, ordered that even at this distance the meat and fish stores were a hindrance to the culture and the sculpted noses of the Florentine nobility. He ordered that the butchers on the bridge be replaced with some of the best goldsmiths and jewelers in the city (and Europe).
The plan has worked too well. In 2019, or at the end of “normal travel times”, Florence’s 367,000 permanent residents welcomed just over 11 million tourists, many of whom were trying to enter one of the 48 shops that line the bridge. . Goldsmiths paid an average rent of over $ 23,000 per month, but few complained. The gold “of the bridge” is something to treasure.
Now, of course, most of the thick wooden doors that line the bridge with their heavy iron hinges are closed. But they are slowly starting to reopen and tourists will be returning – in numbers that will surely break the record of 11 million visitors.
Travelers will also return to the nearby Uffizi Gallery, an incredible treasure trove of Renaissance art (and one of Europe’s top three collections). I worked under the Uffizi portico during the summers when I was a student, selling handbags at a stall near the entrance. During my lunch breaks, the guards let me roam inside. where I was surrounded by centuries of masterpieces.
The Uffizi have been sadly quiet these days, but the pandemic has allowed some needed art restoration work to be attempted. But soon, the lines outside will become longer than ever before as tourists crowd Italy hoping to get a personal glimpse of its treasures.
Overtourism will once again become a suffocating problem for residents, and it will be combined with increases in heat and humidity induced by climate change.
But in Florence, they have come up with a unique plan to tackle overtourism, and other cities and countries will closely follow this experience.
Of course, it has a catchy name. It will be known as “Uffizi Diffusi”, and the thinking is really quite simple – in fact so simple that one wonders why planners took so long to consider it.
The Uffizi Gallery will remove large parts of the museum‘s artwork and distribute it to around 100 regional galleries across Tuscany. In order to divert tourists and support local communities, major works of art will now be housed in small towns and villages as part of a comprehensive program expected to take five years. Of course, it will take longer than that, but it’s hard to imagine that there will be anything other than local support for culture injections that will bring spending tourists to the city.
The sites are already being finalized, with spa towns, former convents and ancient palaces considered fertile ground for the dispersal of the riches of the Uffizi.
Somewhere in Tuscany, someone will create a new village street that caters to those looking for the best in Florentine gold. Airbnb has conducted research that shows properties in mountain towns in Italy book ahead of town locations. Italy takes the wealth of its cities and begins to disperse them in the countryside. And tourists will certainly follow.