Medici Prince Appeals for Help: “Save Florence!”

An irate message to visitors. Photograph: Franco Ubaldo

Prince Ottaviano de Medici de Toscana, President of the International Medici Association and present-day representative of the Historic House of the Medici—the family who powered the Italian Renaissance and thus much of Western civilization—lives in the splendid, art-infused city his ancestors helped create: Florence, Italy.

He is not a happy man.

Over the last decade or so he has watched Florence drown beneath a tsunami of mass tourism. Some 16 million tourists a year now visit the city, population about 350,000. That’s 45 tourists per resident. Some tourists use the city streets as toilets and sleep in public squares. Vandals have defaced the historic buildings. The prince cites “wild nights” of hard-drinking tourists and the “invasion of fast-food joints.”

So the prince and his allies have started a new initiative: Save Florence (in Italian; in English soon). One ally, tour operator Mark Gordon Smith, is trying to raise money for documentary videos about the city’s treasures and declining condition.

My last visit to Florence was off-season more than a decade ago, so I was surprised—appalled, really—to hear their descriptions of the current situation.

Loved-to-Death Syndrome Strikes Again

Tourists clog the major avenues. They stay on average for just two nights; many for only a few hours. International franchises have moved in to sell international stuff to them, forcing out local shopkeepers, products, and artisans. “These shops have taken the place of hundreds of Florentine traditional activities,” says the prince, “and have radically changed the cultural significance of Florence.”

An irate message to visitors. Photograph: Franco Ubaldo

Well, I thought, Florence is inland, so at least it’s safe from cruise-ship crowds. Wrong. Cruise lines supply about 1.5 million of those tourists, via hour-long bus rides from Livorno and La Spezia. These visitors arrive in large guided groups. Most stay in the city —> Read More