This week we have a guest blogger. Carol Del Cielo is another student in Gabriella’s Italian class. She is a doctor (anesthesiologist) in Santa Barbara. She and her children maintain strong ties with their relatives in Italy—particularly in Avellino, Naples, and the Campania region. She has been visiting her family in Italy (aunts and cousins) every summer for the past 20 years. Carol’s children, Antonia and Nicola, remain close to their Italian cousins as well.
I read an article in the New York Times about a long-standing problem in Florence. There is an enormous amount of graffiti on historical monuments everywhere in Italy but particularly in Florence. Tourists scrawl on the walls and on monuments with their declarations of love, their politics, and other reflections.
For example, on Giotto’s bell tower, one of the four principal monuments of the Piazza del Duomo, someone wrote with a black pencil, “I hate the stairs.” Another person wrote, “Marry me, please.” Despite the posted warning signs on the walls, disfigurement has continued throughout the decades. There have been many attempts to prevent it, but without success. Recently, a couple from New Jersey wrote their names with a dark red pencil on the bronze bell of the Giotto tower. In fact, on the walls are graffiti written in 1899!
For years, city officials have tried to dissuade tourists from using the historic walls like a time capsule. But it seems the human desire to create graffiti is very powerful and difficult to stop … until now.
Officials have decided to try a digital solution, starting with Giotto’s Bell Tower in Florence. But before beginning their digital effort, all the walls were cleaned. It took three months; a group of restoration experts had to use lasers to remove all graffiti.
According to Beatrice Agostini, the architect who maintains the site, graffiti are not only an eyesore but also result in extensive damage that sometimes remains on the monuments forever. It is almost impossible to remove certain stains from marble, for example.
After cleaning the walls, the specialists installed three tablet computers inside the bell tower with the hope that tourists would write the words on the tablet and not on the walls. After messages have been written on the tablet, they will be put on a website and stored online for eternity.
It is impossible to put cameras everywhere, and the bell tower is very narrow and steep—414 steps. Therefore, its custodians believe that the digital idea is the only solution to this long-standing problem.
During the first three days of the experiment, there were more than 3,000 visitors to the tower who wrote 304 digital messages—and there was not even one new scrawl on the walls. With virtual graffiti, visitors can choose the background on which they want to write—from wood, to marble, iron, or cement, which are similar to the materials of the monuments. Then they can choose their writing utensil—from lipstick to spray paint. Then they use their fingertip to inscribe on the tablet their messages, names, symbols, or whatever else they want to write.
Visitors are required to leave their email addresses. When their messages have been reviewed and approved, they receive notification of the publication. As the years pass, the messages will be included in the archive of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. These documents date back to the year 1296.
A definitive solution to graffiti doesn’t exist, but the caretakers of the monuments remain optimistic. According to Giorgio Moretti, president of a group of volunteers called The Angels of Beauty, “This is an important attempt, but at the same time, it is important to constantly remove the stains.” The Angels of Beauty are the ones who clean the historic city.
In Italy defacing historic monuments is a crime punishable by a fine or a prison sentence. But it is very difficult to find the people who write on the monuments because usually the crime is committed during the evening in the dark. But the custodians hope that the newly cleaned bell is a deterrent and that nobody wants to be the first person to deface it or the newly cleaned walls.
Experts believe that this digital solution will work only in places that offer an archive where the graffiti will be shown online. Unfortunately, everywhere in this historic Italian city, where there are walls, there will be graffiti.