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After UNESCO Warning, Venice is in Choppy Waters

After UNESCO Warning, Venice is in Choppy Waters
A hulking cruise ship towers over Venice, Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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The art heritage body is seeking a permanent ban on cruise ships endangering the fragile infrastructure of the flood-prone city, if the latter's World Heritage Status is to remain intact

Prannay Pathak
June 30 , 2021
04 Min Read

Romantic gondola rides may be numero uno on Venice's tourist appeal, but giant vessels alighting at the famed heritage centre may spell a bit of trouble. Yet again.

Cruise ships docking on Venice's bank could land the historical city of lagoons in UNESCO's endangered heritage sites list, if a proposal to do so gets the UN body's approval at a plenary meeting to be held in the latter half of July 2021. If this happens, Venice will be forced to take urgent steps within the months to immediately follow.

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Read: Venice's 300-year-old Caffe Florian Shuts

"A long-term solution is urgently needed. A solution that will prevent total access to the lagoon, redirecting them to more suitable ports in the area," shared a UNESCO statement. Container vessels and tourist cruises had been banned by the lower house of the country's parliament earlier this year, but redirecting them to Marghera wouldn't be possible without a major infrastructure overhaul. 

The art heritage body is seeking a permanent ban on cruise ships that are often seen parked like eyesores, towering over the original heritage structures and buildings. The city, in 2016, came close to being put on the list for the very same reason, in addition to a slew of other ground factors such as the absence of a sustainable tourism strategy that would have been instrumental in protecting the very same elements that make Venice a place of "outstanding universal value".

Venice's struggle to contain overtourism and precarious infrastructure issues have intensified in the past few years, as have clouds of World Heritage Site status removal; a 2019 flood, caused by the region's naturally occurring high tides, brought Venice to its knees, submerging 85% of the city.

Tourists crowd a bridge in Venice

Read: Venice is Tracking Tourists who Enter the City, and Here's Why

Giant vessels aren't Venice's only problem; another major infrastructural hazard has beset La Serenissima. The buildings in the city, built on land that has gone marshy, are wobbly and lack proper foundations. Due to this, their bases are forever subsiding into the depths of the canals, which presents a potentially catastrophic situation for the city and its residents.

Read: Venice Introduces New Regulations To Handle Tourist Pressure

The ravages of time...and over-tourism?

This is especially dangerous when one considers the exponential rise in tourist numbers in Venice in the past few years. Cruise ships are also responsible for the inflation and disruption in regular tourist flow—thousands embark at a time from the cruise ships docking at St Mark's Square, contributing little economically and causing heavy strain on the crumbling infrastructure framework of the city. According to Boston Consulting, day-trippers to the city in 2019 spent just 5 to 20 Euros each in contrast to travellers who stayed for even one night and ended up contributing over two-thirds of its tourist revenue.

The forever-widening tourist footprint has also caused residents to flee in unbelievable numbers over the past few decades.

In addition to an environmental project to revive lagoons in Venice, a new pilot project of sorts is now underway in Certosa, an island just a few minutes away by waterbus from St Mark's Square where a new urban park has been reported as having come up. A newly proposed project also aims to turn the city into a world sustainability capital.


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