Christo's 'walk on water' art work rained off

Iseo (Italy) (AFP) - Thousands of people stepped out onto artist Christo Vladimirov Javacheff's latest work in northern Italy on Saturday, seizing the chance to "walk on water" until bad weather forced the evacuation of the floating walkway.

Organisers ordered the temporary evacuation of the walkway of 200,000 floating cubes covered in orange fabric floating atop Lake Iseo on Saturday evening, after wind and rain made it unstable.

The walkways were expected to reopen later on Saturday night, although storms forecast for Sunday could see them shut again.

Earlier, the most eager fans of Christo, as he is universally known, spent the night camped out to be the first to step onto the three kilometre (1.9 mile)-long runway that connects the village of Sulzano to the small island of Monte Isola on the lake.

"It's a very physical project, you need to go there (to understand it)," Christo said Thursday of the project called "The Floating Piers" which is open to the public from June 18 to July 3.

"The Floating Piers" cost 15 million euros ($16.7 million) to create but will be open to the public for free, day and night, and is expected to attract 500,000 visitors by the time it closes.

Several of the first visitors to experience the Bulgarian-born US artist's brainchild removed their shoes to better appreciate the "physical project" that was first conceived in 1970 but has taken until now to come to fruition.

Others sunbathed on the pontoons while braver souls dived head first into Iseo's dark green water.

"It's like being on a boat, it sways, it's fun," Agata, 12, told Italian media.

Her family had driven overnight from Bergamo to arrive at the installation in time for dawn.

The number of visitors reached a peak after lunch with a long queue snaking toward the project's entrance.

Several people queuing were taken ill as they waited under a baking sun.

Christo himself advised his fans to visit another day and ordered that shuttle buses to nearby car parks should make fewer trips.

"It's a great feeling, I am very satisfied with the result which is the product of cooperation between all the organisations that have guaranteed the safety of all of those wanting to walk on the water," said Lombardy regional president Roberto Maroni.

Around 150 people were posted on the walkway to ensure safety wile 30 lifeguards were on hand in the event of an accident.

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 and Berlin's Reichstag in 1995 -- a project which took almost a quarter of a century of bureaucratic wrangling to get off the ground.

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