London - The Rialto Bridge in Venice, the oldest of the four structures spanning the Grand Canal in the Italian city, has seen it all.
But the sight of two German backpackers setting up a travel stove to make their morning coffee on the steps of the 400-year-old monument was too much for a local resident, who promptly reported it to police.
The travellers from Berlin, an unidentified man and a woman ages 32 and 35, were fined a total of €950 (R14 716) under rules introduced in May to preserve “decorum” in the city centre.
Venice, which for decades has been inundated with tourists from all over the world eager to see its unique architecture and experience its lifestyle, has struggled with overtourism. As for other popular destinations, the crowds have been both a blessing, bringing in much-needed revenue, and a curse, invading every inch of public space.
As far back as 1987, local authorities capped the number of tour buses carrying day-trippers into the city. But a new wave of tourism fuelled by cheap airline fares has not made things easier, and Venice has taken strict measures to address the problem. New rules include fines for urinating in public, wearing indecent clothing and eating in public places other than restaurants and cafes.
The struggle echoed that of Rome, where authorities have imposed heavy fines and added officers to stop people from wading into the city’s famous fountains. At the height of a heat wave in Europe last summer, two people skinny-dipped in the fountain at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, prompting a police hunt for the culprits.
Matteo Salvini, the country’s hard-line interior minister, called the men “idiots,” telling them “Italy isn’t their bathroom”.
The largest, most visible symbols of the onslaught of tourists on Venice’s canals have been cruise ships that carry hundreds of people into the heart of the historic centre. Campaigners pushed through new regulations last year to divert the behemoths to a passenger port on the mainland, farther from the city’s fragile lagoon.
But on a recent Sunday morning, a cruise ship plowed into a smaller tour boat and a wharf on a canal, injuring four people. Critics said the accident highlighted the need for regulation.
“Venice must be respected, and the rude people who think they can come to the city and do whatever they want must understand that, thanks to the girls and boys of the local police, they will be taken, sanctioned and removed,” Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of Venice, said.
Now, visitors have to be careful where they brew a cup of coffee.
Both German travellers were ordered to leave the city.
“Our city will always be open and welcoming to all those who want to come and visit it,” Brugnaro said. “At the same time, we will be intransigent with those who think they will come and do what they want.”