MILAN (AP) — The appearance of an oasis of palm trees opposite Milan's gothic-era Duomo Cathedral has spawned a vibrant public debate.
Twitter is awash with palm-inspired memes, including pink palms in front of an aquamarine-colored Duomo subtitled, Milano Vice, referring to the 1980s television series. A well-known landscape architect wrote a page-one criticism in the daily La Repubblica dismissing the project as "neo-gothic folly" that veers "to the limits of kitsch."
The head of the anti-migrant Northern League was criticized after writing on Twitter that the scene was only missing "sand, camels and illegal migrants who will feel at home," while one of his colleagues suggested that to accompany the desert scene, the cathedral's famed spires would next be covered with minarets.
The city-organized project that provided fresh landscaping this week to two flowerbeds at the far end of Piazza del Duomo is part of a public-private initiative to periodically update the city's green spaces. This one is sponsored by Starbucks, which will soon be opening its first Italian store in Milan.
Architect Marco Bay, who won an open competition to landscape the spaces, says he wasn't completely surprised by the discussion "because it is difficult in Milan to see something new."
He dismissed criticism that palm trees don't belong to the northern Italian city, noting that there are hundreds in the city already and pointing out that palm trees were present in the same piazza for a period in the 1800s. The variety he planted, Trachycarpus fortunei, is well-suited to Milan's continental climate, resisting temperatures as low as 15 degrees Celsius below zero (5 degrees Fahrenheit).
"The idea was born by looking at the space," Bay told The Associated Press, saying the trees recalled both the columns of the porticoes skirting the piazza and the spires of the Duomo. "I wanted plants that create architecture, but also scenery."
Not everyone is a critic. The owner of a bar opposite the palms says sales are up more than 25 percent as people flock to see what the fuss is all about.
Milan "correctly wanted to do something aggressive" to liven up what are otherwise innocuous flowerbeds, said bar owner Mario Governa.