Everybody loves Venice. But the question is, increasingly, does Venice love us?
Locals, particularly those belonging to campaign groups that include Italia Nostra and the No Big Ships committee have long been up in arms about the close approach made by cruise ships sailing along the city’s Giudecca Canal to the cruise terminal.
This tussle escalated with the arrival of the new MSC Divina last week, fresh from its naming ceremony with godmother Sophia Loren. (It’s one of the largest ships ever to visit the historic city.) Divina was greeted with huge banners saying “No Grandi Navi” (“No big ships”), and the protesters called on the actress to relinquish her role as godmother.
The argument? Environmentalists claim the wake from the ships damages the fragile foundations of the city, which is built on giant pilings, while the pollution from a large vessel is equivalent to that produced by thousands of cars. (No calculation for this statistic has been supplied — and if people didn’t come by ship, maybe they’d come by car anyway?)
Without doubt, they have a point, but as yet, no other route through the lagoon into the terminal has been decided. Like it or not, Venice, as one of the busiest ports in the Mediterranean, depends heavily on cruise tourism.
Which brings us to the second point: Costa Cruises, rival of MSC and another big user of Venice, has launched a new “conservation” project in the city to “raise the awareness of tourists and residents about preserving the Piazza San Marco area.”
Sounds worthy. But reading between the lines, the project actually seems to be a form of informal policing of tourists’ behavior. Every day until the end of September, a team of eight stewards will hang around Piazza San Marco and “provide information about how to respect and protect this monumental site, about municipal rules of civilized conduct and about the best possible use of public and private services.” And the crunch: These stewards, the press release says, “will also inform Metropolitan Police Headquarters of any violations of municipal rules they discover when on duty.”
These violations include: sitting on certain areas of the monuments around the square, like steps (fair enough), and feeding the pigeons (also fair, as they’re pests and health hazards). Littering — absolutely. But consuming food and drinks in public “except in the areas granted for use by cafes and restaurants”? Since when was that a crime? If Venice wants tourists to stop having picnics and buying ice cream, perhaps the rip-off prices and surly service in the cafes around the square should be addressed?
The efforts to preserve Venice work both ways. If the city wants visitors in these numbers, it has to find a better way of managing them. And perhaps we all have to accept that if we want the city preserved for future generations, cruise tourism will have to be limited or higher prices levied. Or maybe that great sailaway along the Giudecca will have to be consigned to history.
Do you have a solution to Venice’s plight? Let us know.
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