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Museum chief brands tourist-hit Florence a ‘prostitute’

ROME (AFP): Mass tourism has turned Florence into a “prostitute”, one of the city’s museum directors said Monday, sparking outrage from politicians including Italy’s culture minister.

“Once a city becomes a prostitute, it is difficult for it to become a virgin again,” Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Accademia Gallery that houses Michelangelo’s statue of David, told reporters on the sidelines of an event.

“Florence is very beautiful and I would like it to return to its citizens and not be crushed by tourism,” the German historian added, complaining about a lack of normal shops in streets filled with souvenirs.

But “it is already too late,” she said, according to La Repubblica daily, warning that if there was not an “absolute” brake on numbers, “I do not see any more hope”.

The Gallery later issued a statement in which Hollberg apologised “for having used the wrong words” about “a city that I love”.

“What I meant to say is that Florence must be a witness for all of Italy of an increasingly conscious tourism, not ‘hit and run’ tourism,” she said.

But Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said her words were “serious and offensive” to Florence and the whole of Italy — and threatened to take action, saying he would “evaluate all appropriate initiatives” under current legislation.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s nationalist government has been accused of seeking to promote more Italians into top cultural roles, as well as more people sympathetic to her right-wing views.

Last year, ministers approved a change that forces opera chiefs to leave their jobs when they reach 70 years old, a measure widely viewed as a way to remove some foreigners from their posts.

The deputy mayor of Florence, Alessia Bettini, also weighed in against Hollberg, saying that if the city was a prostitute, “are then Florentines the children of a prostitute, and tourists clients of a prostitute?”

Former premier Matteo Renzi, a senator for Florence, said Hollberg “should apologise or resign”.

The gallery director is the latest official in Italy to express concern about the impact of overtourism, particularly in cities such as Florence — where the historic centre is packed with crowds for much of the year — and Venice.

After the UN’s cultural organisation warned it could lose its prized heritage status, Venice last year announced plans to test a ticketing scheme to seek to control numbers, which begins in April.