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Italian churches stand up to sacriligious tourists

Visitors can no longer use the grand entrance at Rome's Basilica of St Mary Major after it was roped off to curb loitering by inebriated and amorous tourists.

In Florence, Church officials complain that church steps are turning into latrines at night. Police in Venice plan to fine tourists for leaving lunch leftovers in the square outside St Mark's Basilica.

Italy's churches draw millions of visitors each year, and anger is mounting over how some mistreat the nation's religious heritage.

"The millions of Italians and foreigners who come every year to admire the architecture and art and many of them also to pray must run through a kind of obstacle course," said Monsignor Timothy Verdon, who is on the staff at Florence's Duomo.

Officials in cities all across Italy have taken steps to clean up the problem. At St. Mary Major in central Rome, church authorities closed one of the basilica's two entrances a few years ago.

"We used to get all the drunks -- there were even people making love," said Sandro Necciari, who works in the basilica's administration.

One place that has escaped tourist depredations is St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. St Peter's Square sits in Vatican territory, and its spotless cobblestones reflect that special status. Visitors aren't allowed to sit down to eat in the square itself, though they are left in peace in the shade of Bernini's colonnade surrounding the square.


Il Duomo di Firenze (official, English) | St.Mary Major Basilica

32 Aug 2003