Will Florence’s New App Help Curb Graffiti on Historic Landmarks?

It encourages visitors to leave a mark—digitally.

Sculptures of David and Hercules killing Cacus outside the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. Photo: caftours.com
Giotto's Campanile. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Giotto’s Campanile.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Graffiti is a major problem in the Italian city of Florence, where historic monuments are defiled on the regular by tourists unable to suppress their need to scribble messages and initials on centuries-old sites. But a new app made by the Opera Santa Maria del Fiore, a non-profit organization that oversees many of the city’s landmarks, hopes to curb this behavior by presenting visitors with a digital archive upon which to make their mark.

Autography, which launched last week, is currently available on iPads stationed inside Giotto’s Campanile, and will soon be available in other areas throughout the Piazza del Duomo, which comprises the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Brunelleschi’s Dome, the Baptistry of San Giovanni, the Crypt of Santa Reparata, and the Opera Museum.

Visitors are invited to leave a message on digitized reproductions of the monuments, and their messages will be stored in the Opera del Duomo’s archive.

“The visitors’ need and will to “leave a mark” is not repressed, but relocated into the virtual dimension…” reads a statement on the app’s website. However, scribblers should note that “every graffiti will be approved and published except those that contain insults, unauthorized material or judged inappropriate.”

Photo: Autography.

Photo: Autography.

The idea for the app was born just three months ago, stemming from an initiative to clean the scribbles from Giotto’s bell tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 14th century.

“When we began cleaning the walls, which had never been done before, we asked ourselves how we could avoid all the work going to waste in a short time,” Alice Filipponi, social media manager for Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, told Agence France-Presse.

Autography allows users to pick their surface (marble, wood, concrete) as well as their tool (pen, paintbrush, spray paint). And while the whole experience is likely a lot less of an adrenaline rush than the alternative, it also ensures that if people play along, the beauty of Florence’s monuments may be preserved for generations to come. After just a week, over 700 messages have been collected from visitors to the bell tower.

The Opera Santa Maria del Fiore hopes to eventually sell the app to other places plagued by unwanted graffiti, so don’t be surprised if you’re soon able to leave your mark—legally—on historic sites worldwide.

Photo: Autography.

Photo: Autography.

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