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The scenic clifftop village of Polignano a Mare, in Italy’s Puglia region, has stirred up controversy by installing turnstiles and charging a €5 (just under $6) entry fee for visitors who want access to the historic town center.

Located about 20 miles south of Bari on the Adriatic coast, the whitewashed village has a maze of cobblestoned streets and charming houses and churches that can draw large crowds.

The town’s mayor, Domenico Vitto, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that it’s a matter of safety. “I would have installed the turnstiles even if there was no entry fee,” he said, explaining that no more than 2,500 to 2,700 people can be in the historic center at the same time in order to guarantee everyone the ability to exit in case of emergency.

The turnstiles were installed earlier this month and, according to La Repubblica, the first weekend they were in effect saw 15,000 paying visitors. Police officers were also there to direct traffic and ensure security. The turnstiles will remain in place every weekend until Dec. 2 and every day from Dec. 7 until the celebration of the Epiphany on Jan. 6, from 3pm until 10pm.

Anyone who wants to enter the historic city center must purchase a GCard, which comes with cotton candy and other snacks for kids. In order to buy products for sale from the stands within the restricted area, visitors must add money to their GCard, as cash is not accepted.

Photo of Polignano a Mare by Pug Girl via Flickr.
Photo of Polignano a Mare by Pug Girl via Flickr.

Though it’s a temporary solution to the crowds gathering to see the town’s famed Christmas decorations, the fee has drawn sharp criticism on social media and in the Italian press.

“Cities are free, not things that can be sold. They’re made of people, not merchandise,” Dino Borri, a professor of engineering at the Polytechnic University of Bari, told La Repubblica. “With all due respect,” Borri said, “this isn’t Venice.”

Borri may have been referring to the fact that earlier this year, Venice — a city plagued by severe overtourism — issued an ordinance blocking access to certain areas for nonresidents in an effort to restrict the flow of tourists.

Other Italian cities and towns, including the section of Italian Riviera known as Cinque Terre, have been searching for ways to combat the negative effects of overtourism. But this appears to be the first time a town has actually started charging an entry fee for visitors interested in touring the historic center. Many Italian cities, including Rome and Florence, have long restricted cars from driving and parking in certain parts of the historic center, but it’s much more difficult to limit pedestrian access.

A representative from the Italian National Tourist Board did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Featured photo by Patrick Nouhailler via Flickr. All quotes were translated from Italian into English by the author of this post.

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