Spanish Steps

A police officer asks a girl not to sit on the Spanish Steps in Rome on Wednesday under a law designed to protect monuments and landmarks. — AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

ROME — Maiken Offerdal of Norway and her teenage sons were just sitting down on Rome’s famed Spanish Steps on Wednesday when they heard two shrieks of a whistle.

A police officer walked over and tut-tutted: No sitting, he said sternly.

Never mind the long tradition of lounging on the fabled spot — a scene perhaps best evoked by Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in the 1953 film “Roman Holiday” — sitting on the Spanish Steps is now subject to a fine of 400 euros ($450) under new municipal rules that ban a variety of activities in the city’s historic center.

The regulations are intended to “guarantee decorum, security and legality” by prohibiting actions that are “not compatible with the historic and artistic decorum” of Rome’s center, according to the city’s website.

So Anita Ekberg’s famed dip in the Trevi Fountain in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”? That would cost her as much as 450 euros today.

Those faux Roman centurions who pose for pictures — for a fee, of course — in front of the Colosseum? Forget about it. Rickshaw drivers? They’ll need to find new routes.

Penalties for graffiti were toughened, as were those for the off-hour sale of alcohol. The new regulations also tighten enforcement of the prostitution laws and the mistreatment of animals, among other things.

The rules, passed by Rome’s government, which is controlled by the Five Star Movement and led by Mayor Virginia Raggi, went into effect last month. Officers have been lenient so far: No fines have been issued for improper sitting, a spokeswoman for Rome’s municipal police said.

Warnings, though, are becoming plentiful.

Dozens of startled people, most of them presumably tourists, were reprimanded on a broiling Wednesday afternoon by a small force of municipal police officers who admonished step-sitters by blowing twice on their whistles and gesturing stiffly to stand up.

The transgressors sheepishly complied.

One so chastised was Valerie Dimitrieva, a visitor from Kazakhstan, who said she had sat on the Spanish Steps during past visits to Rome without incident.

“Being whistled at — it was a bit embarrassing,” she said.

A tired-looking father with a stroller in his hands and a toddler on his shoulders, was coming down the steps when he was stopped by a cry of “Hey Mister.” The stroller, an officer said, cannot touch the steps. The father grudgingly complied.

The officer who chastised him was unapologetic.

“You see one stroller — we see millions of them. This is a historic monument that has to be preserved,” he said, declining to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. He asked to be identified as “a municipal police officer who loves Rome.”

The Spanish Steps — 174 of them — were built in the 18th century. With the Santissima Trinità dei Monti Church presiding majestically at the top, they are one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions. On Wednesday afternoon, a few hundred tourists snapped photos of their families and friends with the steps as a backdrop.

The steps are in excellent shape. Three years ago, Bulgari, the luxury brand, paid for a 1.5-million-euro, 10-month spruce-up.— (The New York Times)

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