Florence fines Uffizi Gallery director for ticket tout warning

FLORENCE, Italy, May 27 (Reuters) - The city of Florence has fined the head of the Uffizi Gallery for broadcasting publicity without authorisation after he aired a recording warning visitors not to buy entry to one of the world's most famous art museums from ticket touts.

Uffizi director Eike Schmidt played the recording of his own voice in English and Italian into the square outside the museum saying where and how much to pay for entry, and telling people to beware of unofficial street vendors and pickpockets.

City police slapped Schmidt with a 295 euro ($329.78) fine for breaking a law governing audible advertising in the streets. The German art historian said he would pay up on Friday.

But Schmidt, who took over the job at the home of Botticelli's Birth of Venus last year as part of Italy's campaign to overhaul a sclerotic museum system, criticised the fine.

"Instead of investing time and energy in working out whether we have made an administrative error with our initiative against ticket touting, we should work together to fight crime and defend our cultural heritage," Schmidt said.

Tickets to the Uffizi, which also houses Titian's Venus of Urbino, cost up to 12.50 euros, but vendors on the street charge 20-45 euros to skip the queue or have a guided tour.

Last year, authorities in the capital Rome cracked down on the armies of people who hawk sightseeing tours, rickshaw rides, and photos with centurions around the Colosseum amphitheatre, prompting protests.

($1 = 0.8945 euros) (Reporting by Silvia Ognibene and Isla Binnie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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