The director of Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, the famed museum that houses Michelangelo’s David, compared the Italian city to a sex worker, suggesting that excessive tourism had ruined the popular tourist destination.
“Once a city becomes a prostitute, it is difficult for it to become a virgin again,” Cecilie Hollberg, the museum’s leader since 2015, told reporters recently, according to Rome-based newspaper La Reppublica. She added, “Florence is very beautiful and I would like it to return to its citizens and not be crushed by tourism.”
Moreover, she said, “it is already too late” for the city, which experiences a mass influx of tourists each year. In 2020, the Guardian reported that Florence brought in 14 million tourists the year prior—a striking amount when one considers that just 328,000 people lived there at the time.
Some Italian cities have attempted to institute measures that would keep tourism at bay. Venice, for example, recently said it wanted to ban loudspeakers and limit tour groups to less than 25 people, all in an effort to clamp down on the crowds that flock to the city regularly.
But even with all that as a backdrop, Hollberg’s remarks did not sit well with Italian politicians, who claimed that her words had denigrated Florence.
Alessia Bettini, Florence’s deputy mayor, questioned Hollberg’s metaphor, saying, “Are then Florentines the children of a prostitute, and tourists clients of a prostitute?” Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italy’s culture minister, said Hollberg’s remarks were “serious and offensive.” Matteo Renzi, Italy’s former prime minister, said that Hollberg had two choices: “apologize or resign.”
As the pushback has continued to mount, Hollberg apologized and tried to explain her position more clearly. She said she had “used the wrong words,” and added, “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.”
The employment of Hollberg, who is German, has previously become a political football for the Italian government under Giorgia Meloni, the country’s right-wing prime minister. Amid what some have labeled a “neofascist revival,” there have been attempts to oust institutional leaders who were not born Italy. Hollberg, whose contract is up in June, has previously expressed fears that the current government may soon place her museum under the umbrella of another Florentine museum, the Bargello National Museum.