ROME—There was a time when the worst offense a visitor to Italy could commit was ordering a cappuccino after dinner, or using a knife to eat pasta. But now, thanks to social-networking narcissism and too much Chianti, it’s butt selfies, skinny-dipping in fountains, and peeing on ancient cobblestone streets.
When Anita Ekberg purred seductively to Marcello Mastroianni to join her for a kiss in the Trevi Fountain in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita, she set a high bar for romantic water scenes. But it’s now one being repeated—to Italians’ horror—by naked Spaniards and Danes in tighty-whitey underpants.
More than 50 tourists have been stopped by Italian officials for trespassing in fountains or committing other public nuisances in recent weeks. The offenses are not just obnoxious; they are expensive. In 2016, Italy’s already flabbergasted cultural ministry pushed for a law that would dramatically raise the fines for vandalism and public nuisances, such as having sex on park benches. Currently, public sex or extreme groping will set an amorous couple back about €50. Two Australians were caught and fined for doing just that on a public park bench in the center of Florence last year.
So far in 2017, three tourists have been arrested and fined €450 each for wading semi-nude in the Trevi Fountain. Two others had to pay €900 for using the Fountain of Two Seas on Rome’s Piazza Venezia as a footbath, and at least one has been arrested and hit with a bill of €10,000 for taking a leak on a cobblestone street in Genoa.
There’s also been a spate of “belfies,” or butt selfies, that have perplexed Roman street cops, who have had to actually sequester cellphones to prove public-nudity charges—since most belfie-takers are quick zipper-uppers. The fine for public stripping is around €200.
Stone engravings may have been just fine for Moses, but not so for tourists. In early April, an Ecuadorian man was fined €20,000 for carving a love note to his wife on the ancient Roman Colosseum. In February, a French tourist was dinged for an undisclosed amount for actually unearthing an ancient Roman coin and then using it to etch her name into the Colosseum’s travertine.
The month before, two Brazilian men were arrested for breaking and entering at the ancient amphitheater to try to take a night-time selfie. They were stopped as they scaled the Colosseum façade and one fell 13 feet to the ground, breaking his hip as he tried to make an escape.
Several days later, the words “balto” and “morte,” which means death, were found spray-painted high on the Colosseum façade. No word on who did that.
Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi has criticized this ridiculous behavior. “Rome deserves respect. Whoever harms the Colosseum harms all Romans and all who love the city,” she tweeted after the episodes.
Last November, vandals also broke the tusk of Bernini’s famed elephant statue behind the Pantheon. The tusk has been reattached, but the perpetrators have yet to be found.
To keep the country’s monuments safe, Italy’s culture ministry is weighing a plan to erect new red zones around major attractions like the Colosseum and instituting better surveillance. Police do patrol the area and there are cameras in strategic locations, but the tapes are only viewed if something goes wrong, not in real time.
Troublesome tourists have always been a problem in Italy, but an increase in visitor numbers fed by cheap airfares and favorable exchange rates has exacerbated the problem. The Bank of Italy projects a record year in 2017. They are expected to spend a whopping €40 billion—fines not included.