Washington, January 21 : A radical clean-up has led to the removal of thousands of scribbled amorous words, hearts, arrows and intertwined initials from the walls of Juliet Capulet's house in Verona, Italy, which is believed to have inspired William Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'.
Rumours are rife the cleaning has been ahead of the likely visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former model Carla Bruni, who might honeymoon in the nearby village of Negrar.
However, Verona's public works counsellor Vittorio Di Dio insists that the walls of the 13th century structure are cleaned on a regular basis in every two to three years.
"Love notes are growing and growing everywhere," Discovery News quoted Di Dio as saying.
"You get to the point when you really need a clean-up. The reason for the present cleaning is simple: We must be ready for the big day, Valentine's Day," Di Dio added.
The house with the legendary balcony, where Juliet is said to have pined for Romeo, is one of the most visited sites in Italy. It is place of pilgrimage for lovers from all over the world.
Traditionally, the visitors first stroke the right breast of the languid bronze statue of Juliet in the courtyard, which believably brings good luck. They later leave passionate words on the house's walls and Gothic wooden doors.
"The 2005 restoration cost 150,000 euros (220,000 dollars). The building was literally covered with letters, post-it slips, graffiti and chewing gum, used to stick the love notes. Some say this is decorative, but we believe it damages the site, not to mention it's rather disgusting to see chewed gum," said Sergio Menon, the engineer in charge of the cleaning.
The love note-writing tradition dates from 1937, when the first letter sent to Juliet was found by her tomb.
"Each year we receive thousands of letters, simply addressed to 'Juliet, Verona'. We have a Juliet Club which collects the missives and replies to everybody. Each year, on Valentine's Day the best letters are awarded a prize," Di Dio said.
Di Dio believes that the love note tradition must be kept alive and promoted further, though notes stuck with chewing gum should be strictly banned.
"We need to find a way that encourages visitors to express their intimate thoughts and preserves the site at the same time," Di Dio said.
About three years ago, an idea was conceived to make this tradition go digital by giving her phone number and email address to people, whose text messages were to be displayed on a giant screen inside the house. However, it proved too unromantic, and failed.
"Visitors who come to Juliet's house want to express their innermost feelings the old fashioned way, by writing them on paper," Di Dio said.
With a view to solving the graffiti problem, he finally planned to place large, removable wooden panels on the walls.
"Visitors will be welcome to write their love messages there. In this way we will not lose this genuine expression of fantasy and passion. We will keep the panels and display them," Di Dio said.