The historic sights of Florence need protection from tourists who leave behind mayonnaise and ketchup stains, the director of the Uffizi Galleries has said as he called for the introduction of a new tax to pay for the clean-up. 

The tax would be imposed on fast food outlets and snack bars that do not provide anywhere for their customers to sit, leaving them to drip their sauces all about the city as they see Michelangelo’s David or the Ponte Vecchio.

Tourism in Florence is bouncing back as Italy recovers from Covid-19 and allows in EU citizens, although British tourists are still being deterred by the requirement that they quarantine for five days on arrival.

Eating a pizza on a wall overlooking Florence

Credit: Alamy

With a dearth of public benches and parks in the centre of Florence, visitors who do not want to splurge on a restaurant meal end up sitting on pavements or the steps of churches and Renaissance monuments, often made of the city’s distinctive grey pietra serena stone.

Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi, says it costs huge amounts of money to send cleaning trucks and council workers around the historic centre to scrub the stains and pick up litter.

“The stains from ketchup and mayonnaise and things like that are very visible. You have to clean them very quickly, otherwise they seep into the stone. It has negative consequences for all of us, for society,” Prof Schmidt told The Telegraph.

“It’s just an idea to help solve some of the long-standing problems which have got worse over the years and which will get worse again as tourists come back. Picnics should be reserved for gardens or the countryside, not the middle of a city.”

Prof Schmidt says he has received many messages of support since launching the idea earlier this week.

Tourist queue outside the Uffizi Galleries

Paolo Castelli, a local resident who lives in the heart of the city, told La Stampa newspaper: “Florence has become like a giant outdoor trattoria and uncontrolled tourism is a real vice. For the people who exploit the city, Florence is just a cow to be milked.”

But business owners are less than thrilled by the director’s suggestion. “It’s an absurd idea, even more so in this difficult period in which we are trying to recover. After a year in which tourism was largely halted, a new tax would force many businesses to close,” said Paolo Gori from Confartigianato, a business association.

Prof Schmidt wants Florence to steer away from mass tourism in the post-pandemic era in favour of a more high-end clientele.

He is trying to take the pressure off Florence with the recent launch of an initiative called Uffizi Diffusi or Scattered Uffizi, in which the gallery has leant masterpieces to towns and villages in other parts of Tuscany.

Like Venice, Florence has struggled to deal with the suffocating effects of mass tourism and is seeing its population steadily shrink.

“Our numbers are going down all the time. People move out to places like Prato or Pistoia and turn their apartment in Florence into a bed and breakfast. Florence is going the way of Venice. Maybe it is already too late to change direction,” Francesco Recami, a writer, told La Stampa.