“Stefano, look! There’s another eater,” one officer said to another before approaching the couple.
The couple had no idea they were in violation of a municipal ordinance that went into force last month, outlawing eating and drinking in areas of historic, artistic, architectonic and cultural value in Rome’s center.
The law is designed to protect the city’s monuments, such as landmarks like the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps. Fines range all the way up to $650 for culinary recidivists.
Elisabetta Povoledo with the New York Times explains that Italian cities have historically had ordinances and regulations in place to protect monuments from rowdy and bodacious tourists and residents.
But after a recent stroll through the city center, where Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, saw several people drunk and camped out, he decided the rules needed strengthening.
And who can blame him? Because as I think any history lover would no doubt agree, littering and drunkenness on such hallowed ground is tantamount to blasphemy.
The new ordinance, which also outlaws camping or setting up makeshift beds, will “give monuments back their proper decorum,” said Rome’s mayor.
But some of the locals are complaining, and some claim the ordinance is too broad.
A salesclerk named Massimo walked away with his lunch after a police officer blew her whistle so Massimo would stop eating a sandwich on the Spanish Steps.
“It seems to me that the municipal police have more important things to deal with than people eating sandwiches,” said Massimo.
“From now on, a tourist walking around the Colosseum with an ice cream cone will be fined,” said Angelo Bonelli, a member of Italy’s Green Party, who dismissed the ban by eating a sandwich in front of the Pantheon while taunting a municipal police officer.
“You can’t govern with bans,” he said of Mayor Alemanno. “It’s a sign of his inability to control the city.”
Elisabetta claims many Romans agree. “Panino is not a crime,” one attendee wrote on his Facebook page.
For years it has been illegal in Venice to eat bag lunches while sitting on the steps around St. Mark’s Square, where 25 million tourists converge each year, said Marco Agostini, the city’s director general.
Mr. Gazzellone, Rome’s head of tourism, dismissed concerns that visitors strolling with ice cream or slices of pizza would be fined, “as long as they throw any waste in the trash bins.”
It’s more a question of civility, he said: “You wouldn’t eat a pizza and drop tomato sauce all over the steps of the White House in Washington.”
Regrettably, yes, many would, while returning their robotic gaze to a smartphone.