A Picturesque Italian village has sparked controversy after introducing a £4.40 charge for visitors and installing turnstiles at the entrances; with critics angry at restrictions on entry to what they argue should be a public place.
But Domenico Vitto, mayor of Polignano a Mare, which dates back to a fourth century BC Greek settlement, has defended the decision as necessary to ensure a steady flow of tourists throughout the year, and said he planned to introduce the turnstiles in any case in order to reduce congestion. The charge will allow visitors entrance to the clifftop village in the southern region of Puglia, with a bag of popcorn, a doughnut, candy floss and a drink thrown in. The new system was introduced this month, and will be applicable throughout the Christmas period until Epiphany on January 7, during which Polignano a Mare will be adorned with thousands of lights.
Mr Vitto told The Daily Telegraph: “The aim is to attract tourists even during the winter months.
“We have big numbers of visitors during the summer but then it dwindles to almost nothing by October and the town is dead.”
He said the intention was the make the village “less seasonally dependent”.
He added: “With this initiative, shops, hotels and restaurants have remained open.
Poglinano a Mare is a picturesque village in southern Italy (Image: GETTY)
“Last weekend alone we had 30,000 visitors.
“Of course residents can come and go as they like and don’t have to buy the ticket.”
Speaking to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, he added: “I would have had the turnstiles installed even if there had not been the entrance fee”.
He explained it was necessary in order to avoid any repetition of crushes which happened in Turin after firecrackers triggered a stampede during a screening of the Champions League Final last year.
Turning the town into a sort of show business, as if it was a fun park for private use, is not a good idea
However, the move was greeted with anger by others in the region, including business association Confesercenti Terra di Bari.
In a statement issued in response to the announcement of the new arrangements, it saidtatement: “Installing turnstiles and charging people to enter one of the most famous historic villages in Italy is detrimental to what should be a public place.
“Turning the town into a sort of show business, as if it was a fun park for private use, is not a good idea.
“The town should be part of the cultural heritage of the whole world.”
Cesare Veronico, who is the artistic director of a local music festival, added: “The fundamental point is that you cannot restrict access to a public place, which everyone should be allowed to see.”
Other tourist spots in the country have already introduced similar systems, including Civita di Bagnoregio, which has a permanent population of less than 10 people, but which attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists annually, many of them from Japan.