ROME (AFP) - "O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how pitifully bare are your branches!"
Romans on Tuesday (Dec 19) were mourning the untimely death of the Eternal City's tree, affectionately nicknamed "Baldy".
With a week still to go until Dec 25, the tree in the Italian capital's main square of Piazza Venezia has become such a laughing stock that it led the city's mayor to launch an investigation into what prompted Baldy's premature demise.
"Rome's tree is dry, dead on arrival. It's a metaphor for the state of the capital," one local wrote on Twitter, while another wondered: "What time does the funeral start?"
According to Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, a preliminary enquiry found that the tree was not properly covered during transport from the Dolomites in northern Italy, where it had been grown.
A wide range of Romans - including environmentalists and professional gardeners - have opined that a tree of a more robust variety also would have survived for longer before starting to shed.
Poor Baldy is a Norway spruce, while the European silver fir would have been a much safer bet for a tree, these self-professed Christmas tree experts said.
Many have compared "the fir tree agony" - which has cost the city some €48,000 (S$76,000) - to the governing Five Star Movement (M5S), which won the mayorship in 2016 but has struggled with a transport and rubbish crisis.
"As if the mess they have created over the past year and a half was not enough, we must put up with this misery," tweeted another Roman.
Il Messaggero declared it a national embarrassment, saying that "in Russia, they've dubbed our dying tree a 'toilet brush'."