Tuesday, August 27, 2013

(No.246) "Are cruise ships killing Venice?"

"Are cruise ships stopping in Venice 
hastening the destruction of the historic city? "

by Alastair Rickard

Is the magnificent city of Venice dying? Many people think so.

That area constituting the historic city of Venice in a northern Adriatic lagoon has a population of only 60,000. Most of the city's working life is carried on by commuters. The deputy mayor of Paris, the most visited city in the world, recently told Le Parisien that "we don't want to become like Venice, a city devoid of inhabitants due to tourism."

Venice's high waters, getting higher steadily, have resulted in an average of 100 floods a year. The so-called Great Flood of 1966 destroyed $6 billion of artwork. The subsequent Italian government plan to protect the city is still incomplete after the expenditure of more than $7 billion.

If global warming and rising sea levels and associated floods don't finish off this Italian city (and the still incomplete flood defences don't) then visiting cruise ships and their passengers likely will.

The Venice Port Authority, among other Venetian vested interests, want even more huge cruise ships to visit the city each year, to be pulled by tugs toward the Doge's Palace then down the Guidecca Canal.

Why does this matter to the survival of Venice?

Here are a few indices of the magnitude of the problems faced by this major tourist destination:

-- In 1997 Venice was visited by 206 cruise ships; in 2011 by 655; the latter number means 1310 passages in the same canal, polluting the air, shaking the houses with their backwash, displacing water up into the canals off the Guidecca.

--The number of berths in the Venice port has been increased so it can handle 8 giant cruise ships at the same time.

-- In 1990 200,000 tourists disembarked from cruise ships in Venice; by 2000 this figure had increased to 337,000; in 2007 the total was 1 million and in 2011 1.8 million.

-- On one day in July 2011 6 cruise ships put 35,000 tourists ashore in Venice at the same time,  a human total equalling more than half the city's residential population.

-- It is worth noting that cruise ships disembark mainly single day visitors to the city who are not even counted in compiling Venice's 6.3 million visitors a year (i.e., those counted as 'visitors' in this total are those who stay over at least one night).

-- Most of Venice's tourists, like first time visitors to the Louvre in Paris who head straight for the painting of the Mona Lisa, want to see St.Mark's Square. It used to be called the drawing room of Europe and is today likened -- because of the crush of tourists now overwhelming Venice -- to the crowded concourse of a major railway station.

After the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground on the island of Giglio on Jan. 13, 2012 an Italian government decree banned ships of more than 40,000 tons from sailing down Venice's Guidecca Canal. [Most of the modern cruise ships are more than this tonnage, often much more.]

The decree has been ignored.

UNESCO reports predict that as sea levels continue to rise Venice will flood twice a day every day in the spring of the year because of tidal ocillation. Buildings in the city have already been seriously degraded by periodic flooding and the 'rising damp'.

Can the death of Venice be far behind?


email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

blog: www.RickardsRead.com

previous columns/blog archive: to access previous columns go to the blog
archive the links to which appear chronologically in the margin beside
each column as it appears on the RickardsRead.com website --
and use the links.

to set a Google Alert in order to receive automatic notice by email
of new columns as they are posted to RickardsREad.com, go to