Venetians unite for National Cleaning Day removing graffiti, lovelocks and litter

Venetians are a proud lot. Proud of their city, their history and their centuries-old traditions. And rightly so. Venice is beautiful and deserves to be loved and looked after. So while The Clooneys were (probably) having a lie-in after their celebrity wedding last weekend, over a dozen groups of locals, students and lovers of Venice were out first thing armed with paintbrushes, rubber gloves and toolboxes ready for a spot of DIY – well that is what Sunday mornings were invented for isn’t it?!

National Cleaning Day

National Cleaning Day

National Cleaning Day is an initiative promoted nationally by the Associazione Antigraffitti (Association against Graffitti) with Venice’s day organised by the Associazione Masegni & Nizioleti, a group of volunteers with a passion for taking care of the old city. Other clean up initiatives also take place up and down the country promoted by environmental campaigners Legambiente but this was a day organised by Venetians for Venice.

Lovelocks on a Cannareggio bridge

Lovelocks on a Cannareggio bridge

And the initiative really seemed to have caught the imagination of locals this year with volunteers working on a wide range of projects to clean up the city.

Removing graffiti. Photo with kind permission of Selina Zampedri

Removing graffiti. Photo with kind permission of Selina Zampedri

Initiatives included –

  • painting over graffiti on walls around San Polo and on the Rialto Bridge
  • removing lovelocks from bridges around the city
  • clearing rubbish from the canals
  • clearing rubbish, especially plastic bottles, from the beaches and interior of Poveglia island before celebrating with a huge family picnic
  • clearing rubbish from the islands of Certosa & Torcello
Painting a wall near the Frari, Venice

Painting over graffiti on a wall near the Frari, Venice

It may surprise you to hear that there are still thousands of Venetians living here ready to defend the city against chronic underfunding and the onslaught of 23 million visitors every year. But Venice is not a theme park or an overblown shopping centre just yet. And Venetians are keen to stop the deterioration of their beloved city and the fragile environment of the lagoon before it is too late.

Venezia Land - a sarcastic view of what Venice could become

Venezia Land – a rather sarcastic view of what Venice could become

So, as a lover of the city, I decided to join in with the clean up, helping one of the groups, WSM, removing lovelocks from the bridges around Cannareggio.

Put your backs into it lads!

Put your backs into it lads!

Lovelocks – the idea of attaching a padlock to a bridge then launching the key into the water to signifiy everlasting love – are becoming a real problem in Venice and around the world and risk damaging historic bridges.

Hundreds of padlocks were removed

Hundreds of padlocks were removed

A dozen of us spent the morning removing hundreds of padlocks left by tourists on the bridges along Strada Nova, Cannareggio and down to the Accademia Bridge in San Marco where the paparazzi were waiting to snap The Clooneys returning to their Giudecca island hotel.

Spreading the word on the Accademia Bridge!

Spreading the word with the paparazzi on the Accademia Bridge!

We removed so many locks that it took two men to carry them over the bridges to the recycling skip! That’s what I call a good day’s work!! But think of the damage that their weight would be doing to fragile old bridges if left attached.

Recycling padlocks into something more useful!

Recycling padlocks into something more useful!

As a more long-term way to combat lovelocks, Venetians have also started the Unlock Your Love campaign group calling for couples to share a kiss and take a photo on Venice’s bridges as a memento instead of attaching a padlock. It’s still early days but hopefully the message will get through, especially now the City Council has introduced a €50 fine for anyone attaching a lovelock to any of the city’s bridge or historical monuments. For now, though, as long as the padlocks keep appearing Venetians will keep on removing them so the padlocks aren’t quite the everlasting symbol of love that tourists think they are!!

Unlock your love campaign flyer

Unlock your love campaign flyer

Like most other groups participating in the clean up day, WSM, which stands for Viva San Marco (Long Live St Mark), the motto of Venice, promotes respect and dignity for Venice campaigning against the degradation and abuse of the city by politicians, tourists and inconsiderate locals.

Celebrating a good day's work!

Celebrating a good day’s work!

And just as in Barcelona last month, they led a large peaceful, apolitical march to highlight the need to combat the physical decay of the city plus the recent deterioration in the behaviour of visitors.

Venetians show their love for the city

Venetians show their love for the city

Around 2000 Venetians of all ages took to the streets singing local songs and calling for greater respect for Venice’s history and traditions, a cut in crime and an end to illegal street vendors selling fake designer handbags and sunglasses and blocking streets and bridges.


So as you can see from Venice’s Cleaning Day and the recent march, pride in the city still runs deep. And while groups continue to campaign individually on various topics, the day was clearly a great success in bringing everyone together to protect and repair the city we love. Over the day 70-odd large bags of rubbish were removed from Poveglia island alone, hundreds of lovelocks were cut off bridges across the city and several walls were cleaned of graffiti. The sad thing is that padlocks have already started to re-appear just a week after the clean-up so this is a battle which looks set to run and run. But we can all do our part to keep Venice free of graffiti, garbage and gratuitous lovelocks. If you’re travelling this year make sure you’re part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The Council says thanks to the Cleaning Day volunteers

Venice Council says thanks to the Cleaning Day volunteers

Useful information

National Cleaning Day – 28th September 2014

Associazione Masegni & Nizioleti website –

Other useful websites

Legambiente website

Clean up the World website

Tips on how to be a considerate & responsible tourist

  • don’t leave love-locks – there is a €50 fine in Venice so beware!
  • respect the laws and by-laws of the city you are visiting
  • respect the local dress code – in Venice this means men must not go topless, everyone must wear footwear, women should not wear bikinis in the city (only at the beach) and shoulders and knees should be covered when visiting churches etc
  • respect the local environment – in Venice this means no bathing or swimming in the canals, no sleeping rough and no peeing in streets
  • take pictures not “souvenirs” from historic sites
  • leave only footprints, not litter, offence or damage
Cutting off lovelocks

Cutting off lovelocks

Edited Sunday 5th October to confirm that this day was promoted by the Associazione Antigraffiti and organized locally by the Associazione Masegni & Nizioleti.

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8 Responses to Venetians unite for National Cleaning Day removing graffiti, lovelocks and litter

  1. Another great article Lizzie!!!!

  2. Vonda Wells says:

    So nice that you are writing about this, I hate those stupid locks all over Venice’s historical bridges! Recently on a TV documentary I actually heard the host refer to them as “an ancient Venetian tradition.” Can you imagine! Your blog as well as their campaign creates more awareness and hopefully these locks will soon become a thing of the past.

    • lizbert1 says:

      An ancient Venetian tradition?! Wow!! Where did they get that from?!! Hopefully the message will eventually get through and in the meantime at least there are locals ready to clean up their city. Thanks for reading and for your lovely comments and lets keep our fingers crossed for the beautiful Venice!

  3. Rudolf says:

    Nice blog! The last time we stayed in Venice was in 2010 we didn’t saw these childness love-locks. We saw in this summer a lotoff grafity but also more neglected houses than in 2010. Sad. A crossover with a gondola was in 2010 fifty eurocent and now € 1,50. What will Venice be about five years?

    Rudolf from Holland

    • lizbert1 says:

      Rudolf, crossovers on gondole are now €2 so make sure you get saving before you come back to Venice! Its still gorgeous and full of history though and I don’t think its going anywhere soon!!! Thanks for your lovely comments and happy travels! Liz

  4. Debra Kolkka says:

    I hate those bloody locks! I am pleased that they are being removed from bridges all over Italy. It is now an offence to place them on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and they are cut off as soon as possible after they are put there. What is wrong with people that they think it is a romantic gesture?

    • I didn’t realise Florence had it an offence – good for them! The sad thing is that people still don’t think about what they’re really doing and are so caught up in selfies and themselves that they don’t see the beauty and history at the end of their noses! Thanks for your comments Debra and I hope all is well with you in Bagni di Lucca – I must pop over there one day to check it out!! ;o)

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