Christo's hugely popular floating orange walkway closes

People take selfies on the art installation 'The Floating Piers' on Lake Iseo, in northern Italy, on July 2, 2016.
People take selfies on the art installation 'The Floating Piers' on Lake Iseo, in northern Italy, on July 2, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

ROME (AFP) - Artist Christo's orange floating walkway on a northern Italian lake will close on Sunday (July 3) after attracting over more than 1.3 million visitors, nearly three times as many as expected.

The three-kilometre undulating path made of 200,000 floating cubes has proved a major hit with the public since it opened on the stunning 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 Reichstag parliament building 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 Christo's creation attracted an average of 100,000 people a day, and up to 120,000 at weekends.

Since its opening on June 18, more than 1.3 million people have visited, smashing organisers' expectations, who had hoped for 500,000.

The installation, made of completely recyclable plastic, cost €15 million (S$22.5 million) to create but has been free to the public.

However, despite its success, the attraction has not been without its difficulties and its critics.

Shuttle buses from nearby carparks and trains from the closest big town, Brescia, were often suspended in order to manage the crowds streaming through the tiny villages dotted around the lake.

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

Doctors handled dozens of cases each day, including some that required hospital treatment.

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.

And the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) complained that the installation had not been much of a tourist boon to the wider region.

"As could have been predicted, the tourists are only interested in the walkways. After a very long journey and a walk on the pontoons, their only thought is to go home and they do not stick around to enjoy the region," said M5S in a statement.

The weather has also often refused to play ball, with heavy rain forcing the temporary closure of the orange bridge on several occasions.

And the weather could spoil its final day on Sunday, with rain forecast.

"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 organisers 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.