The Italian Almanac

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piazza Navona

Italian News - October 28

Moves to ban streethawkers and artists from Rome's Piazza Navona, known by millions of tourists as the city's most picturesque square, have provoked a chorus of protests. Earlier this week the city council gave an initial green light to measures aimed at clearing the historic square of many of the colourful figures who fill it every evening, hoping to sell their wares to visitors. Piazza Navona, which has Bernini's famous Four Rivers fountain at its centre, is especially crowded at night with painters and artists of varying talents who offer to do on-the-spot portraits as souvenirs of Rome.

There are also dozens of Italians and immigrants hawking cheap souvenirs, fake handbags and conjuring tricks while others offer to tell tourists' fortunes. Some residents have complained in recent years that these days there are simply too many people thronging the baroque piazza every night, turning a delightful spot into a chaotic ruck. "One of the most beautiful piazzas in the world will finally be treated with respect. This is a very important decision," said Rome mayor Walter Veltroni.

Council officials said all the people with permits would be given alternative spots elsewhere in the city, defending the move as an act needed to defend the city's image. But many of the painters and artists now due to be transferred elsewhere were dismayed. "The council didn't consult us before deciding this," said Virginio, who has sold his pictures there for 37 years. Some of his colleagues have even started laying out banners on the ground, with messages on them such as "There's no room for us after 40 years" and "Evicted by Veltroni".

Some of the bars and restaurants around the piazza were also sympathetic, fearing that fewer artists would mean fewer tourists.