This Is What Happened in Italy in 2017

Taormina, Sicily | Public Domain Pictures
Picture of Grace Beard
Assistant Editor
Updated: 21 December 2017
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For more on the year’s cultural happenings, check out some more of our 2017 In Review round-ups.

Anti-tourism sentiment swept through Italy’s big cities this year. While locals took to the streets in protest, local governments devised some pretty unique solutions to the problems caused by mass tourism. Meanwhile, a lost Leonardo became the most expensive painting ever sold, and scientists found out exactly when Venice would become an underwater city. We look back at Italy’s biggest travel and culture stories from 2017.

Italian local governments crack down… on lunching tourists

It’s not news to anyone that tourists often earn themselves a reputation for misbehaving or even disrespecting local culture, whether inadvertently or intentionally. But there’s no harm in settling down for an al fresco lunch and admiring the majesty of the Italian architecture and heritage around you, right? Well… not anymore. The Mayor of Rome this year issued an order banning tourists from eating and drinking around the Eternal City’s famous fountains, while her counterpart in Florence aims to keep picnicking tourists at bay by literally hosing them off the steps of famous churches.

Fontana della Barcaccia

Venice reaches breaking point…

In keeping with the theme of tourists ruining everything, Venice hit breaking point this year as more visitors than ever flooded the city. The influx of sightseers, reported to reach up to 29 million by the end of the year, pushed locals to stage an anti-tourism protest this summer. Culture Trip featured a Venetian photographer whose striking images depicted the impact of mass tourism on the city, while our Venice writer gave an honest account of what it’s like to live in Italy’s most crowded city.

Crowds in Venice

…while less-frequented Italian towns are desperate for visitors

As big cities continued to attract visitors in their millions, smaller towns, such as the sleepy southern village of Candela, suffered from a dwindling population. Once known as ‘Little Naples’ for its bustling streets, Candela’s mayor devised a unique approach late this year to revive the town to its former splendor: offering up to €2,000 to people willing to move there.

Candella, Italy
© Shutterstock

Italy clings on to its long-standing lead in UNESCO heritage sites

With its wealth of art, culture and natural beauty, it’s no surprise that Italy has long held the top spot for the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. However, that accolade came under threat last year as UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee awarded China two new sites in an attempt to move away from ‘eurocentric over-representation’. The same committee warned that Venice, one of Italy’s cultural heritage sites, could be stripped of its title on account of the social and environmental impact of cruise ships and unsustainable tourism. Luckily, Venice took heed of this warning, voting to ban large cruise ships from entering its lagoon.

Cruise ship sailing into Venice

Venice really is sinking

Venice has a long history of flooding, prompting plenty of speculation as to when rising sea levels will engulf the city completely. Well, it might be sooner than you think: a study this year predicted that Venice would be underwater as soon as 2100 if the acceleration of global warming wasn’t curbed.

Acqua alta in St. Mark’s Square, Venice in October 2015
© PlusONE / Shutterstock

From sand to underpants, Italy places restrictions on souvenirs

In an unprecedented move taken by local authorities this year, visitors to Sardinia can now be fined up to €1,000 for taking sand from one of the island’s many beautiful beaches. While swiping a handful of sand from a beach that is miles long might seem harmless, the decision was made in an effort to ‘protect the island’s delicate ecosystem’. Over in Florence, a court ruled that images of Michelangelo’s famous David can only be used with official authorisation, meaning the world’s most recognisable male nude may no longer be allowed to adorn keyrings, fridge magnets and t-shirts.

Michelangelo’s David

Italy shows America how to deal with controversial statues

In the murky light of America’s deadly Charlottesville protests this summer, which were sparked by proposals to remove a Confederate statue, Italy might be able to provide the US with a blueprint on how to defuse tensions around controversial monuments. Bolzano, a small town in northern Italy, launched a public bid asking ‘anyone involved in the cultural sphere’ to propose a way to ‘defuse and contextualize’ a fascist-era building, according to The Guardian. The result was a simple LED inscription illuminated across the building, reading “Nobody has the right to obey” in three different languages.

Lost Leonardo becomes the most expensive painting ever sold

In a historic bidding war, Italian Renaissance master Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi became the most expensive painting ever sold, with the winning bid totalling $450,000,000. It was revealed in December to have been bought by a Saudi prince. Despite stealing the headlines, Leonardo’s painting wasn’t the only centuries-old Italian art unearthed this year: earlier in 2017, archaeologists discovered 1,600-year-old frescoes in a Roman catacomb.

Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, ca. 1500
© Christie’s Images Ltd.
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