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September 24, 2017

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Closing time for Christo's hugely popular floating piers

ROME--Artist Christo's orange floating walkway on a northern Italian lake will close Sunday after attracting over a million visitors, twice as many as expected.

The 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) undulating path made of 200,000 floating cubes has proved a major hit with the public since it opened on Lake Iseo in June.

Covered in bright orange fabric, the pier stands in stark contrast with the dark water as it links the small islands of Monte Isola and San Paolo to the shore.

"People come from everywhere to walk to nowhere. Not to shop, not to meet friends, they just walk, to nowhere," said the Bulgarian-born American artist, who once wrapped Berlin's parliament in fabric.

Visitors from around the world have flocked to try "The Floating Piers," many of them going barefoot to get an idea of what it feels like to walk on water.

Local officials said Cristo's creation attracted an average of 100,000 people a day, and up to 120,000 at weekends.

Shuttle buses from nearby carparks and trains from the closest big town, Brescia, were often suspended in order to keep the crowds manageable.

The installation, made of completely recyclable plastic, cost 15 million euros (US$16.7 million) to create but has been free to the public.

Last month an Italian consumer group said the huge cost of cleaning up after the visitors and ensuring their safety raised questions about whether it should have been allowed.

While Christo had promised a 24-hour sensory experience, the local authorities at one stage closed the exhibit at night in order to allow for cleaning.

There were dozens of medical interventions each day, including some that required hospital treatment.

A medical post had to be set up to handle those overcome by the crowds or merely from waiting their turn in the heat.

But it could be the weather that spoils its final day on Sunday, when rain is forecast. Wet weather has already caused the temporary closure of the orange bridge on several occasions.

"Given the anticipated numbers this weekend, visitors should be prepared for wait times and the possibility of not making it on the piers due to capacity," the organizers warned on Facebook.

Christo first rose to fame along with his late wife Jeanne-Claude for their eye-catching wrapping-up of famous landmarks like the Pont Neuf across the Seine in Paris in 1985.

A similar project at Berlin's Reichstag 10 years later took almost a quarter of a century of bureaucratic wrangling to get off the ground.

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