Seven young activists protesting against climate change climbed into Rome’s Trevi Fountain and poured diluted charcoal into the water to turn it black. The demonstrators from the “Ultima Generazione” (“Last Generation”) group held up banners saying, “We won’t pay for fossil (fuels),” and shouted, “Our country is dying.” Uniformed police waded into the water to remove the activists, with many tourists filming the stunt and a few onlookers hurling insults at the protesters.
In a statement, the group linked its demonstration to deadly floods that have hit northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, claiming 14 lives and displacing 36,000 residents. It said one in four houses in the country is at risk from flooding due to climate change and called for an end to public subsidies for fossil fuels.
The group has staged numerous similar protests worldwide, including spraying works of art and blocking highways, attracting international attention. It also pays its activists up to 1,300 euros per month. According to the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, the organization aims to pressure politicians across all parties to prioritize fighting climate change.
Its latest stunt may have been the most daring yet. While the activists were in the water, they were accompanied by two other men who had climbed into the fountain’s tiers and hung over the edge. The three protesters could hold on for about 15 minutes until they started falling into the water.
Luckily, none of the protesters was injured. But a member of the Italian Red Cross told AP that people were frantically trying to save their possessions and that road in some towns were lined up with people’s sofas, chairs, TVs, and mattresses.
The black liquid was vegetable-based charcoal, which does not appear to have caused any permanent damage to the famous landmark. However, Rome Mayor Roberto Gualtieri condemned the act as “another attack on our artistic heritage.”
The pristine waters of the Trevi Fountain have been a favorite destination for millions of visitors to throw coins in the hope they will return to the city someday. The tradition was born in 1927 when American tourists rediscovered the Trevi after a century of being covered by debris.
The city has since restored the fountain, making it a symbol of its rebirth. It has also become a significant tourist attraction, drawing in more than 30 million visitors last year alone.
Despite its popularity, the fountain has a long history of controversy. It was the site of a slave revolt in 1738 and has been the object of various other political and social protests over the centuries. In the 20th century, it was the location of several musical performances. It was also featured in the film Roman Holiday. And, of course, it is a beloved backdrop for selfies by tourists. The fountain is legally protected against vandalism, which carries stiff fines and prison terms.