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Drama at the Spanish Steps


Whistling! Followed by words and hand gestures, you cannot sit here!. The special tourism police are telling the individuals and the crowd on this stairway. This is the famous Spanish steps. It connects to the church of Trinita dei Monti from Piazza di Spagna in the historic heart of Rome. Its evening time around 8pm. The 135 steps are practically deserted, People would normally be resting and taking pictures on them. But now however, tourist police are patrolling the stairs moving people along.

The tourist police are a part of the latest Roman crackdown on human behaviour in the city. Under the new rule’s almost every activity will attract a fine. From wading into fountains to putting your mouth too close to a public tap!. It is almost as if human beings are not to use the city. Behaving “badly” can result in a possible short-term banning.


Tensions with the locals ?


It may appear to tourists that the police are acting overzealously with the clampdowns. This however is not the case for everyone in the city. Interviews with some of the locals seem to suggest a different perspective. Anna Vincenzoni, local councillor, supporting the development explained to Adnkronos agency.

so long as some tourists -not-all- continue to behave excessively, like those who damage the colosseum by carving their names into it or bathe in our historic fountains.

Another local, the head of a local resident’s association Gianni Battistoni, as reported by Vincenzo Pinto also in support of the development quipped.

The steps are a work of art and you don’t sit on works of art” … “people come, pass through and leave. We can finally say the steps have been given back to the city.

This indicates ongoing tensions between locals and tourists.

One of the many fountains that can no longer be interacted with
The Bernini Fountain, during my time in Rome.


A Political Anxiety


The long-renowned lounging on the steps inspired by the 1953 movie Roman Holiday could now cost as much as €400. In Federico Fellini’s La Dolce vita, Anita Ekberg’s famous splash could also now cost her as much as €400. There has also been a banning of the Faux Roman centurions who pose for pictures.Vittorio Sgarbi accused the roman authorities of applying fascist-style measures. Vittorio, controversial art critic and former deputy minister of culture, described the ban as “really excessive” in an interview with Adnkronos.

These are the new rules, passed by Rome’s government which is controlled by the five-star movement. The five star movement had been accused by many in the country of moving further to the right wing when it blocked a parliamentary policy that would have banned fascist salutations. Accusations of fascism are always quick to fly in the country that invented the phenomenon. There are however similarities in the five star movements messianic theme of liberation for the betrayed. A government that is led by a party that is anti-immigration and aligning itself with many far-right ideas.


A thin line between Protection and desolation


Rome has been trying to control its tourists for many years. In 2012, the mayor, Gianni Alemenno passed regulations to deter people from eating on monuments. It was, however, still okay to sit then. Many critics including locals believe that the new ban on sitting is a step too far. The roman newspaper Il messaggero described the empty stairs as an image of desolation, rather than one of strength. Still, with the steps off limits, shop owners have had to hire private security to prevent people from sitting around their shops to eat which further exacerbates the situation. The whole situation appearing and becoming more unsustainable.

The Spanish steps have always been more than mere steps, they are a meeting node and a place to rest for the city.

Natalie, a local and travel writer describes the ban as reeking of Bulgari influence. Bulgari is the brand that paid for the restoration of the stairs in 2017, however they do not own the stairs and as such cannot dictate how the stairs should be used. In 2017, Paolo Bulgari, the Brand owner was quoted suggesting that the stairs should be closed at certain times.


The spanish steps before the ban
The steps used to be great example of good urban design.


Urban space for human use


The stairs may be beautiful but is also a practical part of city planning. The ban on sitting on the steps is upsetting as Rome is a of city of delight. Of course the city is to be respected but also enjoyed. The presence of tourist police whistling at people, ironically only serves to drain the lifeblood of the city.

The Italian capital like Venice has been grappling with the side effects of over-tourism for years. However some locals say the new push to enforce a sitting ban is “foolishness” according to Elizabeth Schumacher. Other locals such as Emilia Giorgi have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the whole development, she explained

“The city is not a painting or a sculpture- it is a place to live for all. The most important quality of the Italian city is precisely this idea of public space and sharing…Roman architecture is basically designed for people. Without them it becomes an object in vitrine…”

There is an old saying about lunacy being the first step on the journey to ruin. Although it is difficult to say whether fascism could return. It is clear that the current political fragilities would only worsen the situation. Italy’s slow-moving economy is increasing the visibility of far-right ideas. The idea that urban core of european cities might turn into desolate museums doesn’t seem far fetched. For now, “I was just sitting there doing nothing” won’t get you out of a mess if you’re caught sitting on the steps. But don’t let the harsher policies dampen your spirit, Rome still has a bunch to offer and Gelato is easy on the move.


Brady, S. (2019). Rome enforces rules that ban tourists from sitting on Spanish Steps – Lonely Planet. [online] Lonely Planet. Available at: [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

Deutsche Welle ( and Schumacher, E. (2019). Romans critical of Spanish Steps sitting ban | DW | 08.08.2019. [online] DW.COM. Available at: [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

Elbaor, C. (2017). Paolo Bulgari Proposes Restricted Use of Spanish Steps in Rome. [online] artnet News. Available at: [Accessed 12 Jan. 2020].

Giuffrida, A. (2019). Tourists face €250 fines for sitting on Spanish Steps in Rome. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

Gutoskey, E. (2019). Warning: Sitting Down on Rome’s Spanish Steps Could Now Cost You $450. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

Ledsom, A. (2019). Rome Clamps Down On Tourists: Sitting Is Now Banned On Its Spanish Steps. Forbes. [online] 12 Aug. Available at: [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020]

Manaugh, G. (2011). Pay-As-You-Go Urbanism. [online] BLDGBLOG. Available at: [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

Natalie (2019). Rome Bans Sitting on the Spanish Steps – An American in Rome. [online] An American in Rome. Available at: [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

Povoledo, E. (2019). Rome’s New Rules: No Sitting on the Spanish Steps (and No Wading in the Trevi Fountain). The New York Times. [online] 7 Aug. Available at: [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

Pullella, P. (2019). Rome bans sitting on Spanish Steps, puzzling hot, tired tourists. [online] U.K. Available at: [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020].

The Local and Pinto, V. (2019). No more sitting on the Spanish Steps? Rome cracks down on tourist crowds. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Jan. 2020]

Image Index

The spanish Steps is a major node in Rome.- Chernov, M. (n.d.). The Spanish Steps, the Piazza di Spagna, Sallustiano obelisk agains background of the Church of the Santissima TrinitГ  dei Monti. Rome, Italy. Available at: [Accessed 12 Jan. 2020].

The Bernini Fountain, during my time in Rome. – Authors own work, (Muhammad Ogunniyi, 2019)

The steps used to be a great example of good urban design. –  Green, P.J.S. (n.d.). The Spanish Steps and the church of Trinita dei Monti seen from the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Available at: [Accessed 12 Jan. 2020].



2 responses to “A Roman crackdown, the hostile steps.”

  1. Mo picks up on the much debated issue of conservation in the urban context and which stance is best; preservation or restoration. As highlighted, the Roman authorities favour the preservation approach. However when enforced in the wrong way, this can remove the human element from the urban design, resulting in quite a clinical space.

    It’s worth examining this issue in the context of the UK. The UK has a very rich and varied history of urban developments, with some being preserved at a point in time in order to show the marks of history on the building and others being restored to accommodate modern demands. This does raise an interesting question as to what we most value in the conservation of our most historic buildings as a country. Do we preserve everything for the sake of authenticity or restore it back to the crowd pleasing eras? Critics such as John Ruskin and Susan Macdonald argue for the case or preserving all for the future (Ruskin, 1886). This is a more honest approach, documenting our humanity and our downfalls, including the works which ‘are not yet loved’(2013) (such as Croome’s bathroom). However Dr. Prudon argues along the lines of restoration or even replacement when you take factors such as economic viability and provision for innovation into account (2017).

    Charities such as The National Trust and English Heritage walk this fine line of preservation v. restoration, in their management of places of Historic value. Unlike the Roman Authorities, they take more of balanced approach, assuming the role of ‘promoting the permanent preservation for the benefit of the nation of lands and tenements’(The National Trust, 1907). In order to maintain the buildings they rely on the funding of visitors and therefore restore elements of their buildings, such as the structural integrity, in order to accommodate the number of visitors. However the extent of restoration or preservation varies with each building.

    Lets take Croome Court for example which leans more towards the preservation approach.This is a very interesting one given its multiple histories which have had their impact on the architecture over time. Initially it was a Tudor home, which was renovated in the 1700’s by the 6th Earl of Coventry to become a Palladian mansion. Over time the family finances declined resulting in disrepair and the sale of the mansion in 1948. Over the next 50 years it was run as a Catholic school, a centre for Hare Krishna and a hotel.

    Given each stage of Croome has a different story to tell, the Trust decided to leave the building as they found it as a form of preservation. The only exceptions were the restoration/support of elements which were a potential safety hazard and provisions for a tea shop and toilets for the visitors. The elements left for guests to see included graffiti on the walls from 1950’s school boys, subsidence from poor 18th century foundations and a garish pinstriped bathroom from the 1990’s developers. This last one particularly usually causes outrage amongst the visitors, who expect to find a quintessential historic British home which appeals to their ideals. Croome Court often receives criticism that it should be restored back to its 18th Century glory, like many of the other National Trust buildings. However this would then be sacrificing the element of authenticity and the more recent parts of Croome’s history. Going back to the work of Ruskin, Macdonald and Prudon, Croome demonstrates there is no one definite answer which pleases everyone.


    Macdonald, S., Ostergen, G., (2011). Developing an Historic Thematic Framework to Assess the Significance of Twentieth-Century Cultural Heritage: An Initiative of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Twentieth-Century Heritage (online) available from:

    Macdonald, S., (2013). Modern Matters (online) available from:

    Prudon., T (2017) Preservation, design and modern architecture: the challenges ahead, Journal of Architectural Conservation, 23:1-2, 27-35,

    Ruskin, J., (1886) The seven lamps of architecture, George Allen, Sunnyside, Orpington, Kent. 5 (1), pp.193-195

    The National Trust, (1907) Conservation Principles, The National Trust (online) available from:

    The National Trust (2019) Croom Court, The National Trust (online) available from:

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