St. Mark's square, one million persons.

Venice degradation. Chasm in the foundations.

Tourists at rest in Rio terà S. Leonardo.

The Rialto market.

Tourists in a Venetian calle.

Cruise ship in front of St. Marks square.

The tour in steamboat.

The Venetian 'cicheti'.

A starving tourist.

Venetian shop-window.

Venetian mask.

Dolls in carnival masks.

Ca' Dario, the unusual offset Renaissance façade.

The former Molino Stucky, now Hilton Hôtel.

Water displacement at the passage of the motor boats. Called the 'onda lunga'.
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immagine didascalia

St. Mark's square, one million persons.


immagine didascalia

Venice degradation. Chasm in the foundations.


immagine didascalia

Tourists at rest in Rio terà S. Leonardo.


immagine didascalia

The Rialto market.


immagine didascalia

Tourists in a Venetian calle.


immagine didascalia

Cruise ship in front of St. Marks square.


immagine didascalia

The tour in steamboat.


immagine didascalia

The Venetian 'cicheti'.


immagine didascalia

A starving tourist.


immagine didascalia

Venetian shop-window.


immagine didascalia

Venetian mask.


immagine didascalia

Dolls in carnival masks.


immagine didascalia

Ca' Dario, the unusual offset Renaissance façade.


immagine didascalia

The former Molino Stucky, now Hilton Hôtel.


immagine didascalia

Water displacement at the passage of the motor boats. Called the 'onda lunga'.


Venice and tourism

Venice is suffering from too much tourism and the roots of the city are being eaten away, physically and metaphysically. It is clear to anyone that another Venice is superimposed on the traditional city, bringing with it signs of increasingly deep and visible discomfort, which adds to the city’s age-old problems (physical degradation , acqua alta, depopulation and upsets in the eco-balance of the lagoon).

It is the other city that we see, as we try to make our way through the calli and campi, crowded with open-mouthed tourists, squeezing past shop windows overflowing with fake Murano glass, Carnevale masks, T-shirts and gondolier hats. Not to mention the signs advertising hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and pizzerias and those touts that immediately attack you the moment you arrive, offering accommodation, tours and serenades.
The evil affecting Venice, however, is more than just skin-deep: these outwards signs - the crowds, the adverts, ephemeral consumption - are visible manifestations of a phenomenon that has far deeper roots, working away under the skin of the city. This evil is altering the sense of the city, in unprecedented and increasingly intrusive ways. A phenomenon that interacts with the life and activities of people living or working in the city, and one that is getting steadily getting worse.
The reasons are twofold. Firstly, because tourism has changed radically over the past few years: no longer just for the elite at certain periods as in the past (Venice has always attracted tourists), it is now a mass phenomenon all year round, leading to new figures and events. And then because the city has had to adapt to this intense rapid change, generating that other image that covers the original image of Venice.

All this gives rise to heavy bitter conflicts within the city, such as the changes in its trade and crafts plus the now critical problem of congestion. Day-trippers have no need for over-night accommodation or cultural events, but refreshments and consumption (from sandwiches and mineral water to toilets). The overwhelming presence of visitors in a hurry, yet wanting to take back with them a "piece of Venice", means that the type of trade along the major tourist routes and at the access points has changed considerably. Stores and shops have given up their traditional sectors, as these are proving less and less profitable due a fall in demand from residents, and are now specialising in selling items specifically for tourists. These are mass produced, often far from the actual city, by businesses who are no longer interested in producing finely crafted quality goods, but prefer to make cheap goods for mass consumption.

Shop windows are full of these cheap tourist goods: glass, T-shirts, souvenirs, postcards, dolls , guides, scarves, hats, gondolas, masks and lace. As if the shops were not enough, there are hoards of stalls and trestle-tables in the calli, campi, sottoportego and along the fondamenta, even in traditional craft areas, such as the Rialto market , appearing amidst the old vegetables and fish stalls. Open areas are filled with tables, chairs and umbrellas in front of the thousands of restaurants, pizzerias and bars, offering ready-cooked pre-packaged meals.

Needless to say, congestion continues to rise and this is the other visible and crucial result of tourism. Venice is already a city with high density housing, narrow streets and alleyways, even along the major routes. It is hard to get around during the most popular months for tourists : you meet great difficulties in entering the city and very often getting out; once in the centre, if you need to get anywhere in a hurry you find your way blocked by crowds of tourists filling the alleys and making it impossible to get past.

But congestion is not just a problem in the centre. Venice has only one access point to the mainland – Piazzale Roma – where the bridge over the lagoon ends and all road traffic has to stop.
This area is often congested by parked coaches releasing huge masses of visitors, compromising its indispensable function as the sole point of arrival and departure for the city and its daily activities. All vehicles entering and exiting the city must unload their goods or let off their passengers near the one bridge that serves Venice. Traffic often comes to a complete standstill and long queues form on Saturday and Sunday mornings when the city begins to fill up with tourists (the worse time is between 10.00 and 11.00 am) and even more so at night, when the city empties (between 5.00 and 7.00 pm). It is then impossible to enter or exit Venice, for hours. The mainland parking facilities remain virtually empty, as most tourists want to get as close as possible to Venice by car or coach.
This results in complete chaos, not least because this uninterrupted influx of tourists leads to other major and threatening problems, such as the abnormal proliferation of stalls and shops on Isola del Tronchetto and in Piazzale Roma and the aggressiveness of the many touts that detain tourists upon arrival, directing them towards illegal car-parks and then herding unsuspecting tourists onto unlicensed boats and dropping them off in St. Mark’s Square or a glassworks on Murano.

Public transport is also affected by the crowds. People often give up trying to use the public boats and speedboats that cross the Canal Grande, especially if they need to get on at St. Mark’s or the Rialto, as it is physically impossible to access them. Again, this problem is not limited to just the centre of Venice: in summer, especially when the weather turns bad, loads of tourists staying along the coast at Jesolo and Cavallino pour into the city, clogging up the boats arriving at San Zaccaria, not to mention the inevitable congestion at the Punta Sabbioni terminal or in Piazzale Roma and Tronchetto. Riva degli Schiavoni becomes total chaos, registering greater numbers of tourists in summer than the railway station.

The tangible result of these major economic and practical changes is an increasing bad image of the city. There is also the problem of the material consumption of the city. So many tourists leave the city incredibly dirty: just go to St. Mark’s Square after a summer weekend to realise how much litter is left behind. The thousands of litterbins simply cannot hold it all. These are now found outside all major attractions, near stairs, monuments, bridges and walls and along the canal banks, where people sit to stop or eat a quick meal. Then there is the actual physical damage to the city’s monuments during major events, such as Carnevale.

The city is, of course, also being attacked by the water. Motorboats used as a way to move as many tourists as possible as quickly as possible create huge waves in their wake. The damage is affecting the bases of the buildings in the inner canals and is gradually dissolving the major fondamenta embankments, such as the Fondamenta delle Zattere and along the Canale della Giudecca (the most popular route for speedboats going from the terminals to St. Mark’s).
Not to mention the devastating effects caused by the passage of cruise ships along the Basin of San Marco up to the Stazione Marittima terminal. A phenomenon of recent years linked to growth in the cruise market, Venice is one of the most popular stops: provided that the ships pass in front of St. Mark’s (a fact well-advertised in the packages proposed by tourist agencies). These cruise ships are gigantic, dominating the island city. Worst of all, they shift huge masses of water as they pass, generating strong currents that spread right up the smaller inner canals.

Venetian society is greatly affected: tourism transforms people’s behaviour, by introducing new models of consumption, calling for new skills, interfering with customary ways of life and occupying space used for cultural events. Indeed, many of the cultural events, exhibitions, concerts and conferences that are organised in Venice have certainly had the desired effect of extending the tourist season into the winter. Even so, the peak periods during the summer remain and such events only attract even more tourists during other less favourable periods of the year and induce them to return to the city.

Then there are the new professions without a cultural identity to meet tourist demand: fake gondoliers and poor quality musicians offering serenades (originally only sung at night, these are now heard at all hours of the day), unqualified hoteliers and pizza chefs, aggressive touts, greedy stalls selling overpriced food and drink in all the most popular places and dishonest sellers of mass-produced rubbish disguised as local handicrafts.

Even more serious for Venice is the fact that this new form of consumption interferes negatively with one of the more acute problems, that of housing. There has been major depopulation of the city in recent decades: more than one hundred thousand inhabitants have moved out. There are various reasons for this, including the fact that tourism has takes up spaces and buildings that could otherwise be used for housing. Housing opportunities are thus scarce: the available buildings have been turned into inns, guesthouses, hotels and B&B’s. Initially near the major tourist attractions, the train station and Piazzale Roma, but now gradually throughout the city.
This is a growing trend. Many buildings are being split into mini-apartments for the foreign or non-resident market to be used as second homes in Venice. Houses and buildings are being turned into residences for foreign students, luxury apartments for wealthy "lovers of Venice" or representation offices for companies and sponsors attracted by the positive image of Venice for business: guaranteed commercial success.
What is more , many buildings and homes remain closed and unused, waiting to enter this new real estate market, as it is proving to be far more profitable than the traditional housing market. The cost of buying or renting the few apartments that are currently available – only for "non residents" – is affected by this same mechanism, making them unaffordable.
Thus it is easy to understand how it is now almost impossible for residents (and aspiring residents) to find somewhere to live in Venice.

Certain measures have been introduced to cope with the problems raised by this invasion of tourists.  However, these still see tourism as an uncontrollable perennial phenomenon that is destined to continue to expand and the only real economic resource for the city. In other words, only its final results can be stopped.
But is this really so?

That other Venice is the consequence of the very idea of Venice that people have sought to cultivate and export. And which has seen the public institutions over the past few decades fight over the immense ephemeral spaces, wasting unprecedented resources, money and energy in organising carnival events, floating theatres, exhibitions and shows designed to attract the largest possible number of visitors and to prolong their stay in Venice.
They have even bartered the Venetian trademark with clever "illuminated" sponsors.
Valuable opportunities have been wasted, such as the recent new urbanisation of the Giudecca area. Reclamation of abandoned industrial areas (such as the Junghans factory and the Mulini Stuky mill, where new housing has been bought up non-residents foreigners or intermediaries now renting it out to tourists) has not been supported by a policy on residency and agreements with the private sector have been short-lived.

This issue of residency must be addressed. If Venice is to protect itself against excessive tourism, it cannot expect to do so with limited measures as a knee-jerk response to the problems caused by this phenomenon.
What is needed is a sound policy geared to promote residency in Venice, a more efficient local government when it comes to changing the intended use of existing buildings, judicious use of those areas yet to be developed and more efficient use of public housing assets.
Only that way can new life be breathed into services and economic sectors that are otherwise destined to disappear.

Venice is waiting for a change in the trend, showing how this passive approach to the selling-off of the city in recent decades has now ended. And that, like all cities throughout the world, it is especially for the people who live there, while certainly not denying hospitality to those who want to visit.


Franco  Mancuso

1800 - 2000  -   - rev. 0.1.13

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Venice and its lagoons

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