Monday, May 27, 2024
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Brunei Town

Loss of heritage

FLORENCE (AFP) – Goldsmith Tommaso Pestelli was evicted from his historic Florence workshop to make way for a luxury hotel, the umpteenth victim of a mass tourism critics say is ravaging the Italian city.

Calls for urgent action to protect the city centre, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) site, intensified last month.

Some 1.5 million tourists flocked to the city last summer, up 6.6 per cent on the previous year, while an increasing number of independent shops and residential apartments are being transformed into fast food outlets and holiday lets.

“We’ve been open since 1908. If you get rid of us, and many others like us, you take away part of the city’s spirit,” said Pestelli, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were goldsmiths before him.

Pestelli, 55, managed to find another little workshop nearby, but says many fellow artisans have not been so lucky.

The average cost of monthly residential rents leapt 42 per cent between 2016 and 2023, while the number of apartments listed on Airbnb jumped from some 6,000 to nearly 15,000, official figures show.

Even in February, tourist queues snake around the block at the Duomo and throng around Michelangelo’s David.

With locals forced out and traditional shops disappearing, “Florence is becoming an empty box”, Pestelli said.

Elena Bellini, 47, who sells work by local artists, said the drop in the number of long-term residents was killing neighbourhoods and had lead to more crime, like attempted break-ins.

“Florence is dying!” read a notice in the window of a jewellers saying the city had been “sold” to big business.

The Tuscan capital is not alone. Venice and other top destinations like the Cinque Terre in northwest Italy have also seen locals driven away by astronomical rents, overcrowded sites and endless souvenir shops.

ABOVE & BELOW: Goldsmith Tommaso Pestelli in his new workshop; tourists take pictures at Piazza Del Duomo in Florence, Italy; and Elena Bellini at her shop. PHOTO: AFP
People walk past a souvenirs shop. PHOTO: AFP