Historical souvenir vendors from the oldest Roman Jewish families took to the streets this week in protest of new regulations that forbid street vendors from selling their wares near the Vatican.
Though ostensibly a security measure, the vendors—called urtisti—see the new regulations as a targeted affront, and several sewed yellow Stars of David to their clothing in protest, calling to mind the racist singling out of Jews emblematic of Nazi persecution.
Carrying signs saying “Let us work or we’re dead,” a hundred or so protesters staged a demonstration in Saint Peter’s Square Thursday, demanding an “urgent” meeting with the special commissioner of Rome, Paolo Tronca, or with the Prefect of Rome, Franco Gabrielli.
The president of the association of urtisti, Fabio Gigli, told reporters: “If we have to leave St. Peter’s Square for the Holy Year, after we have already been removed from the Colosseum, we’re dead. At that point we might as well turn in our licenses.”
Gigli was referring to an earlier edict that curtailed the routes of street vendors in 2014, eliminating the possibility of peddling near historical monuments such as the Coliseum and Piazza Venezia. Others were affected by the norms as well, such as the troupes of men dressed as gladiators or Roman centurions that would pose for pictures with tourists in front of the Coliseum.
Citing reasons of order and security, Rome police have now barred street vendors from peddling their goods near the Vatican for the duration of the Jubilee Year, which begins next Tuesday and will end November 16, 2016. Starting Monday, the vendors have been asked to sell their wares in designated spaces farther from St. Peter’s Square.
Others affected by the ban are the food trucks that used to park just outside Saint Peter’s Square to sell food, soft drinks and water to pilgrims and tourists, as well as the chestnut roasters that worked in the same area.
“They have decided to put it to us,” said Gigli, “because the latest measures taken by the city seem to be targeted against Jews.”
Some of the signs carried by protesters read: “History repeats itself.”
Others appealed directly to the Pope, with the message: “Pope Francis, Roman Jews asks for help with their right to work.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome