Tourists in Piazzas

Piazza Navona, Rome

Piazza Navona, Rome

People travel to Italy to see the sights, and one of the things people are told to visit are some of the great piazzas of the world. These are apparently some of the great outdoor public spaces, and everybody wants to experience the atmosphere of te Piazza Navona , the Spanish Steps, St Peter’s square, St Mark’s Square, and all the others.

St Peter's Square, Vatican City

St Peter’s Square, Vatican City

Tourists are told that Italians go to these spaces to see and be seen, to drink cappuccino, debate art and culture, and generally experience what is considered one of the most unique aspects of Italian culture.

I hate visiting these piazzas.

They are beautiful, yes, but there is no Italian culture here, only tourists. The trattorias and cafés lining the square, supposedly supporting this café culture are full of tourists. The shops cater to tourists, the prices reflect tourism, and the quality is definitely lacking.

'Italian' cafes, Piazza Navona, Rome

‘Italian’ cafes, Piazza Navona, Rome

Endless cafes, San Marcos, Venice

Endless cafes, San Marcos, Venice

If the piazza is well known or there is some major attraction thre, then here are large tour groups swarming the place, following raised umbrellas or flags.

San Marcos crowds, Venice

San Marcos crowds, Venice

There is no Italian culture here.

In fact, I would be surprised if there was a local Italian in these squares that was not a waiter or tour guide.

Lines of tourists to enter San Marcos Basilica, San Marcos Square, Venice

Lines of tourists to enter San Marcos Basilica, San Marcos Square, Venice

Or trying to sell something of course.  Maybe dressed as a gladiator?

Gladiator on cell phone outside the Pantheon, Rome

Gladiator on cell phone outside the Pantheon, Rome

Does that mean that piazzas are not the centre of Italian public life? No, I guess I wouldn’t go that far, but tourists are certainly not finding it at these large popular plazas. We aren’t seeing Italians there, we are only seeing ourselves pretending to be Italian.

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5 Responses to Tourists in Piazzas

  1. Maria says:

    This isn’t the case in smaller towns/cities, i.e. where piazzas aren’t tourists attractions. My parents and their neighbors regularly head to their local piazza every evening to see their friends and get the local news/gossip.

  2. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #3 | Doug's Archaeology

  3. Charlie says:

    If only American and Canadian cities had such beautiful and intimate streets and public spaces of their own, there might be less need to cross oceans to enjoy them! Part of the appeal of these piazzas, for North Americans at least, is their novelty. Piazza Navona has a fascinating history behind it, it is true, but it is fundamentally just a really pleasant urban space. Time of year is also an issue — in July-September things are really going to be mobbed by tourists, and many Italians simply get out of Rome altogether (imagine, taking a vacation *from* Rome to just sit on the beach somewhere).

    • That’s true, the tourists are flocking to places that are generally unavailable in North America. I still find it strange that generally the tourists don’t actually see any locals enjoying the space the way they expect to!

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