TRAVEL VIEW: HONOURING HIS­TORY

The leg­endary Medici fam­ily was a great pa­tron of the arts of the Ital­ian Re­nais­sance, turn­ing Florence into a cen­tre for art and cul­ture. To­day, the last of the Medici line is cam­paign­ing to pro­tect the city from the dam­ag­ing im­pacts of mass tourism – be

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Contents - STORY RYAN SWIFT

The last of the Medici line is cam­paign­ing to pro­tect Florence from the dam­ag­ing im­pacts of mass tourism

“THE WORLD HER­ITAGE COM­MIT­TEE IS AB­SO­LUTELY SLOW IN TAK­ING CON­TROL­LING AC­TION TO­WARDS THE STATE OF CON­SER­VA­TION”

– Prince Ot­ta­viano de'medici di Toscana

The Ital­ian city of Florence may be com­pact, pack­ing a pop­u­la­tion to­day of just 380,000, but it has played an out­sized role in the de­vel­op­ment of western civil­i­sa­tion. Its fa­mous res­i­dents through­out his­tory in­clude the minds that made mod­ern science, such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo Galilei, as well as the busi­ness­men who turned Italy into a fashion cen­tre, such as Roberto Cavalli and Guc­cio Gucci. There have been scores of artists, sculp­tors and po­ets along with them.

But the money that paid for much of Florence’s artis­tic and cul­tural wealth came from the Medici fam­ily, who be­came known as suc­cess­ful mer­chants and bankers in the 13th and 14th cen­turies. The House of Medici, as the fam­ily is also known, bankrolled the Ital­ian Re­nais­sance, ruled Florence as a city-state and in­stalled Medici fam­ily mem­bers as four Ro­man Catholic popes be­tween the late 15th cen­tury and early 17th cen­tury.

The Medici fam­ily still ex­ists to­day, de­spite cen­turies of frac­tured pol­i­tics and war. Its cur­rent head, Prince Ot­ta­viano de’medici di Toscana, styles him­self as the Grand Duke of Tus­cany in keep­ing with the Medici fam­ily’s long his­tory in the re­gion.

The econ­omy in Florence to­day is twice the na­tional av­er­age, and it owes much of this suc­cess to its tourism busi­ness. Like many his­toric Euro­pean cities, Florence re­ceives an enor­mous in­flux of tourists – cur­rently around 16 mil­lion per year, and ris­ing. How­ever, lo­cals have been ran­kled by ef­forts in the re­cent years to de­velop more lux­ury ho­tels and shop­ping malls in the city cen­tre. And one of the peo­ple mak­ing a stand against this is Prince Ot­ta­viano him­self.

Two years ago, he founded an or­gan­i­sa­tion called Save Florence, ded­i­cated to pro­tect­ing Florence’s trea­sures from the rav­ages of mass tourism and in­form­ing vis­i­tors about how their ac­tions can im­pact the city. We caught up with him last month to find out what ef­fects his work is hav­ing on the city.

You founded Save Florence in 2015. Af­ter two years, can you de­scribe how the or­gan­i­sa­tion has de­vel­oped? Save Florence was a grand ducal ini­tia­tive that has since turned into an in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal party named Floren­tine Re­nais­sance, un­der the lead­er­ship of the Noble Dame Lu­ciana Zan­chini. The party will run in Florence’s may­oral elec­tion in spring 2019. [How­ever] the grand ducal crown of Tus­cany is not par­tic­i­pat­ing with the po­lit­i­cal party, since the crown is of­fi­cially op­posed to the Ital­ian Repub­lic be­cause it does not le­git­i­mately hold power. For this rea­son, the crown of Tus­cany doesn’t share the repub­li­can in­sti­tu­tions of Italy and their demo­cratic sys­tems.

What suc­cesses have you and your or­gan­i­sa­tion had in terms of help­ing Florence cope with so many tourists? The mayor of Florence did change a few trade reg­u­la­tions af­ter the Save Florence cam­paign, for­bid­ding small shops from sell­ing al­co­hol and Turk­ish kebabs at any time to tourists. Apart from this lit­tle thing, noth­ing else has hap­pened.

The Unesco world her­itage con­ven­tion of 1972 is dan­ger­ous and use­less be­cause the World Her­itage Com­mit­tee is ab­so­lutely slow in tak­ing con­trol­ling ac­tion to­wards the state of con­ser­va­tion, and in ef­fi­ciently and quickly im­pos­ing mea­sures for pro­tec­tion of ma­te­rial her­itage. Mean­while, the ex­is­tence of this old con­ven­tion at­tracts masses of tourists, [some­thing] that kills the spirit of the place and its in­tan­gi­ble her­itage. In Florence we have 3,600 his­toric build­ings and fa­cades that need se­vere restora­tion, and for years Unesco has done noth­ing about this prob­lem.

What have been the main prob­lems for Florence in terms of mass tourism? The en­tire pop­u­la­tion that used to live in the city cen­tre – an area of 8 sq km as des­ig­nated by Unesco – has left. For cen­turies there were over 100,000 here, and in the last three decades this has de­creased to 3,000. Nowa­days only tourists are vis­i­ble in the streets of the city cen­tre.

The Unesco con­ven­tion of 1972 is par­tially re­spon­si­ble for this ‘mas­sacre’ of pop­u­la­tion, be­cause its old op­er­a­tional guide­lines do not con­tem­plate this loss of cul­tural iden­tity as a prob­lem of preser­va­tion for the unique out­stand­ing value of the city. It has been an­nounced by Unesco that the 2019 world her­itage com­mit­tee will start to ex­am­ine the prob­lem ... that’s af­ter seven years of our Save Florence an­nounce­ments!

What kind of tourism would you wel­come to Florence? Only in­di­vid­ual groups of tourists, not the or­gan­ised ones.

What do you feel tourists are miss­ing in Florence, or in Italy as a whole? They are miss­ing a chance to meet the so-called ‘spirit’ of the place, some­thing that is not ex­is­tent any longer.

What other ac­tiv­i­ties are you in­volved with, in terms of con­serv­ing Floren­tine his­tory and cul­ture? The grand ducal crown of Tus­cany has for­mally pro­posed a sus­tain­able tourism char­ter to the World Her­itage Com­mit­tee. For­eigner in­vestors and col­lec­tors can help us in­crease the Floren­tine con­tem­po­rary and clas­si­cal fine arts col­lec­tions by in­vest­ing in our Medici phil­an­thropic art col­lec­tions, and also by open­ing Medici Uf­fizi Mu­se­ums abroad for ex­hibit­ing pri­vate Floren­tine art col­lec­tions.

We are now see­ing other ex­am­ples of con­cern in Europe about the ill ef­fects of mass tourism – most no­tably in Barcelona. What are your thoughts about al­low­ing for a Euro­pean tourism in­dus­try, upon which many busi­nesses de­pend, and con­serv­ing the char­ac­ter of a place? The Euro­pean par­lia­ment should put se­vere re­stric­tions on the tourism in­dus­try by au­tho­ris­ing only the ex­is­tence of small tour op­er­a­tors. There is a group of around eight gi­gan­tic tour and cruise op­er­a­tors that are con­trol­ling and in­flu­enc­ing the en­tire tourism mar­ket. So when one of these ma­jor tour op­er­a­tors de­cides to ‘in­vade’ a city like Florence, the in­va­sion can be con­ducted in as lit­tle a three years! What are some of the places in Europe that man­age to do this bal­ance of tourism and preser­va­tion in a pos­i­tive way? Nor­mally the Euro­pean tours or­gan­ised by ma­jor tour op­er­a­tors take place over about seven to nine days, and ev­ery­where they go tourism is not sus­tain­able any longer. Smart trav­ellers should or­gan­ise the trip by them­selves and avoid the lo­cal­i­ties near to the ones pro­posed by tour op­er­a­tors. Just choose a lesser­known place lo­cated in the prov­ince area of the ma­jor touris­tic lo­cal­i­ties.

What are your own favourite travel ex­pe­ri­ences out­side of Tus­cany and Europe? We were in­vited to Sin­ga­pore last year for the 2016 UBS Philanthropy Fo­rum Asia, to speak on the sub­ject of the last­ing legacy of the Medici fam­ily. We also vis­ited Taiwan and Tokyo. It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence and a true per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion, be­cause Asian peo­ple were very wel­com­ing to­wards the sub­ject of how to cre­ate last­ing fam­ily legacy through art.

Be­cause of lack of time we could not re­peat the same con­fer­ence in Hong Kong at the time, but the diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the crown of Tus­cany is will­ing to or­gan­ise a con­ven­tion on these mat­ters in Hong Kong soon.

With re­gard to Florence, Tus­cany, Italy and Europe as a whole, what do you feel that tourists miss or fail to un­der­stand? They miss the life be­yond tourism, be­cause no tour op­er­a­tors find value in of­fer­ing the op­por­tu­nity of cre­at­ing in­ter­cul­tural di­a­logues dur­ing the trips. We in­vite the peo­ple in­ter­ested in dis­cov­er­ing the arts, the sciences and the tra­di­tions of the Tus­can noble fam­i­lies to ini­ti­ate in­ter­cul­tural di­a­logues with some of them by par­tic­i­pat­ing in our week-long sem­i­nars in English or in Chi­nese, which are held at the Medici’s Villa Ar­timino, near Florence.

“THE EN­TIRE POP­U­LA­TION THAT USED TO LIVE IN THE CITY CEN­TRE HAS LEFT. NOWA­DAYS ONLY TOURISTS ARE VIS­I­BLE IN THE STREETS OF THE CITY CEN­TRE”

– Prince Ot­ta­viano de'medici di Toscana

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