UNESCO warned Venice: City candidate to world heritage site blacklist

UNESCO warned Venice: City candidate to world heritage site blacklist

Although Venice has taken important steps in recent years to protect its ecosystem and world-famous architecture and art, UNESCO believes it has not done enough and warned the city faces irreversible changes.

The UN cultural agency has recommended adding Venice to its world heritage site blacklist, reigniting a debate over the city’s long-standing problems: over-tourism and the effects of climate change on its structural fragility.

“The reported achievements … do not reflect a significant progress in addressing the persistent and complex issues related in particular to mass tourism, development projects and climate change,” the organization said in a statement at the end of July.

These factors, it added, “are causing deterioration and damage to building structures and urban areas, degrading the cultural and social identity of (Venice) and threatening the integrity of its cultural, environmental and landscape attributes and values.”

The city’s economy suffered a twin blow with the floods of November 2019, which caused severe damage to many of its historical buildings, shops, bars, restaurants and homes, followed by COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 that drastically reduced the number of visitors.

Tourism has recovered since then but has yet to reach the pre-pandemic levels.

According to latest data from the city administration, 5.7 million tourists visited Venice in 2021, compared to almost 13 million in 2019.

Many experts caution that these numbers, which take into account only those who spend at least one night in the city and not day-trippers, severely underestimate the real numbers of visitors.

For instance, Fabio Carrera, a professor at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, calculated that an average of 82,000 visitors poured into Venice every day in the few years before the pandemic, putting the number of yearly tourists in the city at roughly 30 million.

Since 2020, moveable barriers at the entry points of the lagoon are in place and have been protecting Venice from the high tides that periodically inundated areas of the city over previous decades.

The following year, Italy’s government banned giant cruise liners, which for years towered over the ornate palazzos of Venice, from coming close to famous landmarks such as the Piazza San Marco, ending years of disputes with groups of local residents.

In June 2019, a cruise ship crashed into a pier, damaging a smaller boat and injuring five people. The accident energized a local campaign to keep the ships out of the heart of Venice.

Persisting problems

Yet, the problem of over-tourism and addressing the fragility of the city persist.

Claudio Moretti, who runs a bookstore in the city, said he was not surprised by UNESCO’s comments, adding that there is no denying the organization is pointing at real problems of the city.

“I think that only a person in bad faith can say that there isn’t a problem of over-tourism in Venice,” he said.

“We can discuss different ways of how to solve it, but the problem is there.”

In response to the UNESCO statement, the city’s administration said they would carefully read the recommendation and speak to the Italian government, “which is the state party with which UNESCO relates.”

It did not comment further. A spokesman for Italy’s Culture Ministry said the minister did not comment on the matter.

Carla Canazza, an interior designer who owns an atelier in the city, said she misses the time when tourists in Venice were mostly real art lovers.

She said mass tourism over the last few years has put a strain on the city’s infrastructure and even pushed away residents.

“I used to know many people who even owned an apartment here and came for long periods of time every year,” she said.

“Sadly, many of them sold their places during the last 15 years and don’t come back very often.”

While mass tourism was rising over the last two decades, Venice’s population kept shrinking due to the shortage of affordable housing and lack of jobs unrelated to tourism.

Residents in the city dropped to just under 50,000, from 175,000 in the 1950s, according to data from the city of Venice.

Shanti Ganesha, 31, who was raised in Venice and then lived abroad for many years, moved back to the city in 2020.

After a months-long search for a shop to rent, she set up a business last year selling handmade vegetable tanned leather products, such as belts and wallets.

Many traditional artisans quit their professions and left the city, which is a big loss for Venice, said Ganesha.

“If residents move out, it’s like taking the soul away from a city,” she said.

Ganesha said tourists should be made more aware of the beauty and specificities of the lagoon ecosystem itself, not just about the city’s art and architecture.

“There should be more protection of the lagoon of Venice. Even making tourists aware about the lagoon of Venice and giving naturalistic tours, which is an amazing part of Venice itself, is a way to start protecting the lagoon,” she said.

‘Do we want to lose tourism?’

However, many others do not agree with UNESCO’s assessment of the situation.

“Venice is well-protected, not only by the actions put in place by the country, but most of all by the passion of inhabitants and of all Italians,” Renato Brunetta, a former minister who now heads a foundation aiming to make Venice the world’s capital of sustainability, wrote in a letter to Italian daily Corriere della Sera earlier this month.

Putting Venice on the list of sites in danger “is unjustified and would have perverted effects, different from those wished for,” he wrote.

Brunetta said his foundation is collaborating with many institutions to make the city more sustainable, and that there are many efforts to attract more long-term residents, such as students.

He agreed that tourism flows should be regulated, but not interrupted.

Others are even more assertive than Brunetta.

“There’s for sure a strong pressure from tourism, but what do we want to do?” Massimo Cacciari, a Venetian philosophy professor and former mayor of the city, told Italian media.

“Thank God there is tourism,” he said, highlighting its importance for the Italian economy as a whole.

“Do we want to lose tourism because UNESCO says it is damaging? It should rather give (Venice) the money for the works needed … more facts and less words!”​​​​​​​

Benzer Haberler & Reklamlar