VENEZIA ARCHEOLOGIA e RESTAURO ARCHITETTURA: As Tourists Crowd Out Locals, Venice Faces ‘Endangered’ List. NPR NEWS – All Things Considered | WASHINGTON DC (25/11/2016) & SALVATORE SETTIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES (29/08/2016).

VENICE – As Tourists Crowd Out Locals, Venice Faces ‘Endangered’ List. NPR NEWS – All Things Considered | WASHINGTON DC (25/11/2016)

On a recent fall morning, a large crowd clogged the steps at one of Venice’s main tourist sites, the Rialto Bridge. But on this day, there was a twist: it was filled with Venetians, not tourists.

“People are cheering and holding their carts in the air,” says Giovanni Claudio Di Giorgio, who helped organize the march with a grass-roots organization called Generazione ’90.

The carts he refers to are small shopping carts — the symbol of a true Venetian.

“It started as a joke,” he says with a laugh. “The idea was to put blades on the wheels! You know? Like Ben Hur. Precisely like that, you just go around and mow people down.”

Venice is on many bucket lists. But that’s a problem. Up to 90,000 tourists crowd its streets and canals every day — far outnumbering the 55,000 permanent residents.

The tourist influx is one key reason the city’s population is down from 175,000 in the 1950s. The outnumbered Venetians have been steadily fleeing. And those who stick around are tired of living in a place where they can’t even get to the market without wading through a sea of picture-snapping tourists.

Laura Chigi, a grandmother at the march, says the local and national governments have failed to do anything about the crowds for decades, because they’re only interested in tourism — the primary industry in Venice, worth more than $3 billion in 2015.

“Venice is a cash cow,” she says, “and everyone wants a piece.”

Just beyond St. Mark’s Square, a cruise ship passes, one of hundreds every year that loom over their medieval surroundings. Their massive wake churns up the lagoon bottom, destabilizing the foundations of the centuries-old buildings themselves.

“Every time I see a cruise ship, I go into mourning,” Chigi says. “You see the mud it drags, the destruction it leaves in its wake? That hurts the ancient wooden pylons holding up the city underwater. One day we’ll see Venice crumble down.”

For a time, UNESCO, the cultural wing of the United Nations, seemed to agree. Two years ago, it put Italy on notice, saying the government was not protecting Venice. UNESCO considers the entire city a World Heritage Site, a prestigious honor that means Venice, at the cultural level, belongs to all of the world’s people.

In 2014, UNESCO gave Italy two years to manage Venice’s rampant tourism or the city would be placed on another list — World Heritage In Danger, joining such sites as Aleppo and Palmyra, destroyed by the war in Syria.

Venice’s deadline passed with barely a murmur this summer, just as UNESCO was meeting in Istanbul. Only one representative, Jad Tabet from Lebanon, tried to raise the issue.

“For several years, the situation of heritage in Venice has been worsening, and it has now reached a dramatic situation,” Tabet told UNESCO. “We have to act quickly.”

But UNESCO didn’t even hold a vote.

“It’s been postponed until 2017,” says Anna Somers Cocks, the founder and CEO of The Art Newspaper and the former head of Venice in Peril, a group devoted to restoring Venetian art.

She says the main reason the U.N. cultural organization didn’t vote to declare Venice a World Heritage Site in Danger is because UNESCO has become “intensely politicized. There would have been some back-room negotiations.”

Italy boasts more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country in the world, granting it considerable clout and influence within the organization. The former head of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, which oversees heritage sites, is Francesco Bandarin, a Venetian who now serves as UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture.

Earlier this year, Italy signed an accord with UNESCO to establish a task force of police art detectives and archaeologists to protect cultural heritage from natural disasters and terror groups, such as ISIS. The accord underlined Italy’s global reputation as a good steward of art and culture.

But adding Venice to the UNESCO endangered list — which is dominated by sites in developing and conflict-ridden countries — would be an international embarrassment, and could even hurt Italy’s lucrative tourism industry.

The Italian Culture Ministry says it is unaware of any government efforts to pressure UNESCO. As for the organization itself, it declined a request for an interview.

The city’s current mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, has ridiculed UNESCO and told it to mind its own business, while continuing to support the cruise ship industry, which employs 5,000 Venice residents.

As for Venetians, they’re exasperated.

“It’s a nightmare for me. Some situations are really difficult with tourists around,” says Di Giorgio as he navigates around a swelling crowd at the Rialto Bridge.

Then it hits him: This crowd isn’t made up of tourists. They’re Venetians. Di Giorgio says he’s never experienced the Rialto Bridge this way in all his 22 years.

“For once, we are the ones who are blocking the traffic,” he rejoices. “It feels unreal. It feels like we’re some form of endangered species. It’s just nice. The feeling is just pure.”

But, he worries, if tourism isn’t managed and his fellow locals continue to move to the mainland, his generation might be the last who can call themselves native Venetians.


— NPR NEWS – All Things Considered | WASHINGTON DC (25/11/2016).


PISA, Italy — A deadly plague haunts Venice, and it’s not the cholera to which Thomas Mann’s character Gustav von Aschenbach succumbed in the Nobel laureate’s 1912 novella “Death in Venice.” A rapacious tourist monoculture threatens Venice’s existence, decimating the historic city and turning the Queen of the Adriatic into a Disneyfied shopping mall.

Millions of tourists pour into Venice’s streets and canals each year, profoundly altering the population and the economy, as many native citizens are banished from the island city and those who remain have no choice but to serve in hotels, restaurants and shops selling glass souvenirs and carnival masks.

Tourism is tearing apart Venice’s social fabric, cohesion and civic culture, growing ever more predatory. The number of visitors to the city may rise even further now that international travelers are avoiding destinations like Turkey and Tunisia because of fears of terrorism and unrest. This means that the 2,400 hotels and other overnight accommodations the city now has no longer satisfy the travel industry’s appetites. The total number of guest quarters in Venice’s historic center could reach 50,000 and take it over entirely.

Just along the Grand Canal, Venice’s main waterway, the last 15 years have seen the closure of state institutions, judicial offices, banks, the German Consulate, medical practices and stores to make way for 16 new hotels.

Alarm at this state of affairs led to last month’s decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to place Venice on its World Heritage in Danger list unless substantial progress to halt the degradation of the city and its ecosystem is made by next February. Unesco has so far stripped only one city of its status as a heritage site from the more than 1,000 on the list: Dresden, after German authorities ignored Unesco’s 2009 recommendations against building a bridge over the River Elbe that marred the Baroque urban ensemble. Will Venice be next to attain this ignominious status?

Unesco’s ultimatum stems from several longstanding problems. First, the increasing imbalance between the number of the city’s inhabitants (which plummeted from 174,808 in 1951 to 56,311 in 2014, the most recent year for which numbers are available) and the tourists. Proposed large-scale development, including new deepwater navigation channels and a subway running under the lagoon, would hasten erosion and strain the fragile ecological-urban system that has grown up around Venice.

For now, gigantic cruise liners regularly parade in front of Piazza San Marco, the city’s main public square, mocking the achievements of the last 1,500 years. To mention but one, the M.S.C. Divina is 222 feet high, twice as tall as the Doge’s Palace, a landmark of the city that was built in the 14th century. At times, a dozen liners have entered the lagoon in a single day.

The inept response of the Italian authorities to the very real problems facing Venice gives little hope that this situation will change anytime soon. After the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia in January 2012 off the coast of Tuscany left 32 people dead, the Italian government ruled that megaships must stay at least two miles from shore to prevent similar occurrences in the future. But the Italian government, predictably, failed to stand up to the big money promised by the tourist companies: A loophole to that law was created just for Venice. A cruise liner running ashore in the Piazza San Marco would wreck centuries of irreplaceable history.

Furthermore, after a corruption scandal over a multibillion-dollar lagoon barrier project forced Mayor Giorgio Orsoni to resign in June 2014, he was replaced a year later by Luigi Brugnaro, a booster of Venice’s tourism. Mr. Brugnaro not only fully welcomes the gargantuan ships but has even proposed the sale of millions of dollars of art from the city’s museums to help manage Venice’s ballooning debt.

The destruction of Venice is not in Italy’s best interest, yet the authorities remain paralyzed. Local authorities — the city and the region — are at odds with the government in Rome. Regardless, they have failed to diversify the city’s economy, meaning that any changes would put the few remaining Venetians out of work. To renew Venice’s economic life, new policies are strongly needed, aimed at encouraging young people to stay in the historic city, encouraging manufacturing and generating opportunities for creative jobs — from research to universities and the art world — while reutilizing vacant buildings.

No effective provision on Venice’s behalf has been enforced so far by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, although protection of environment and cultural heritage is among the fundamental principles of the Italian Constitution. Nor are authorities developing any project whatsoever aimed not just at preserving the monuments of Venice, but at ensuring its citizens a future worth living.

If Italy is to spare Venice from further violation by the new plague devouring its beauty and collective memory, it must first review its overall priorities and, abiding by its own Constitution, place cultural heritage, education and research before petty business.


— THE NEW YORK TIMES (29/08/2016).