Wednesday 26 September 2018

Venice 2: The Death of Venice?

Ah Venice, 'human awful wonder of God'. Okay, that was Blake on London, but as I fought my way through the hordes of selfie-stick-touting, wheelie-case-hauling visitors to the most beautiful city ever made by man, that phrase kept occurring to me...
 Having always believed that Venice can ultimately withstand anything, I'm beginning to wonder if the city might finally have signed its own death warrant by allowing such numbers of vast 'floating hotel' supercruisers to tie up and debouch thousands of extra visitors into the already crowded tourist hotspots every day. The crowding has now reached such a level that, in ever growing areas around San Marco and the Rialto, it is all but insufferable. And it will only get worse, so long as the Venetian authorities persist in chasing the tourist dollar (or yen or yuan) at any cost to the city.
 Things are fast reaching the point where some visitors (especially if they haven't done their homework) must find the experience of visiting Venice so unpleasant and stressful that they wish they hadn't bothered and had kept their money. And yet the numbers will continue to grow, especially as more and more Chinese tourists find themselves able to afford the journey. Venice could, if it continues on this course, end up as little more than an overcrowded, overpriced theme park, cynically devoted to parting visitors from their money.
 Even I, a lover of Venice who has been visiting the city for half a century, am beginning to wonder if it's really worth going back again. How crowded will those streets around San Marco and the Rialto be in two years' time? In four? And, alas, there is no way of avoiding the crowds: both areas have to be passed through if you want to cross the Grand Canal. (The vaporetto is an alternative, of course, but boats on the main routes are bursting at the seams with people at almost any time of day, and you certainly see more of the city by walking.)
 Many Venetians are deeply unhappy about this state of affairs. There have been angry protests against the degradation of city life by mass tourism (and there is conspicuous anti-tourist graffiti in the so far tourist-free eastern district of Sant' Elena). There is widespread hostility to the floating hotels; another large waterborne demonstration is scheduled for this weekend, though nothing seems to have any impact on the money-crazed city fathers. If the visitors keep on coming, that is proof to them that their policy is working, even if it has also degraded and compromised the very thing the visitors are coming to see.
 At which point, it's time to look on the bright side. It remain true that the tourist throng can be escaped. Many parts of Venice, and many of its churches and museums, are still quiet and peaceful, as yet unreached by the crowds (though fewer and fewer are entirely tourist-free). And, gratifyingly, the native population is still hanging on, perhaps even thriving; there seem to be more babies and children in evidence each time I visit – the children careering around the campi and playing street games with all the freedom that life in a car-free city confers. Venetian Venice still exists, thank the Lord, as well as tourist Venice. And, as an indirect result of the tourist influx, churches that were once obscure, dilapidated, little visited and seldom open are now in much better shape, restored and open at sensible times – and, in some cases, charging an entrance fee. Well, that's Venice.


  1. When we there last, a couple of years ago, one had only to go a street or two from the main streets or piazzas to get away from the crowds. Saint Marks's and the Riva degli Schiavoni might be full to bursting, but in the same week we had Santa Maria del Orto all but to ourselves. Yes, it is astonishing to see one of those liners come down the canal, still more so to see the crowd to tourists follow the umbrella of their guides. But perhaps the narrowness and complexity of the streets will continue to keep the bigger crowds to the main thoroughfares: a guide doesn't want to lose tourists and delay the departure to the next stop.

  2. Yes, we had Madonna del Orto almost to ourselves as well, thankfully – a lovely quiet part of Venice still. You can always get away from the crowds – it just seems that you have to go further and further each year to do so.

  3. There are hopeful signs (maybe) –
    I don't like the sound of that 'four years' – and of course the same numbers (or more) wld be disgorged into the city, just from a rather more distant location.