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Venice, Italy, Is Being Destroyed by Tourism and Flooding

I love to travel and explore new places. I hope my articles encourage you to visit them too.

Piazza San Marco is regularly flooded by high tides.

Piazza San Marco is regularly flooded by high tides.

Venezia, Capital of the Veneto Region, Italy

Venice suffers from a major environmental issue. The land is boggy and the city is slowly sinking. The buildings don't have proper foundations and are gradually subsiding into the waters of the lagoon. Its historic buildings are crisscrossed by hundreds of canals. Venice (or Venezia in Italian) is built on more than 100 small islands. The canals and surrounding lagoon are tidal and salty, and form part of a natural marsh flood plain.

The city grew because of its strategic location as a trading point between East and West. The architecture reflects the affluence and diverse origins of its settlers who accumulated huge wealth through trading in precious metals, gemstones, glass and silk. The impact of tourism and climate-change on the city are clearly visible. Walking routes around the city can change depending on the extent of the flooding. If you visit, take an up-to-date guide book with you. I recommend this one from The National Geographic. It will help you to make the most of your stay.

Is Venice Sinking or is the Water Rising?

Venice, Italy is literally sinking. It has always experienced flooding from acqua alta (exceptionally high tides) but the frequency of such events has increased. There is a flood warning system with siren alerts, and text warnings that keeps residents informed of the likely severity of the floods. People prepare with wellington boots and raised walkways, but buildings are not so lucky.

The water levels are now permanently above the original damp proof courses of older homes buildings in the city. Saltwater attacks the friable clay bricks causing them to crumble and let in more water. As a result, the ground floor of many of Venice’s buildings are now uninhabitable. To preserve them and prevent more erosion, underwater barriers have been installed to reduce the quantity of water entering the lagoon. The system was trialled in October 2020, and will be fully operational by the autumn of 2021.

How Bad is the Flooding in Venice?

Tourists Continue to Visit as Venice Sinks

Whether the cause is rising sea levels or climate change, mass tourism, or cruise ships, there's no doubt that Venice is suffering. Scientists continue to monitor changes in water levels as these are substantial and real. The marsh on which Venice sits is compacting. Historic buildings are sinking. Stonework and carvings are crumbling away. Tourists flock to the city because of its remarkable history and architecture. A tourist tax or visitor levy has been introduced to help pay for vital restoration work. None-the-less Venice is set to become more of a living museum than a real living city. Venetian natives continue to leave the area as tourism sucks the lifeblood from their city.

Tourist Cruise Ships Blight St Marks Square

Before the coronavirus pandemic reduced tourist numbers, cruise ships were having a severe impact on Venice. They dock in the center of the city, in St Marks Square. Their enormous bulk dwarfs surrounding buildings. Not all passengers disembark for a tour of Venice, but each ship carries thousands of tourists, and even a small proportion visiting puts a strain on the city’s attractions. Cruise-ship visitors disrupt “normal” tourist flows and spend very little money landside. Because of this, Venetians have been campaigning against cruise ships docking in the heart of their city.

100s Protest Against Return of Giant Cruise Ships to Venice

The return of cruise ships caught many by surprise after the Italian government announced in March that they would be banned from the historic centre, and has reawakened old divisions in Venice.

When the 92,000-tonne MSC Orchestra made its way out of the lagoon after picking up passengers en route to Greece, it was given a victorious sendoff by port workers. But it was also escorted away by a flotilla of small boats with anti-cruise ship campaigners on board.

— The Guardian newspaper 06/14/2021

La Serenissima (the Most Serene One) is Under Threat

Venice was nicknamed La Serenissima in the Middle Ages in honor of its beauty, but it shows a very tired face these days. In recent years, it has been blighted by cruise ships and corrupt officials, and has become the most expensive city in Italy. The successful tourist trade on which Venice depends is helping to destroy the city. In 1987, the city and its lagoon was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But just 50 years later UNESCO is considering delisting it.

The resident population has dropped to less than 50,000, but Venice receives 36 million tourists each year. The sheer number of visitors puts enormous pressure on the city’s sewerage and recycling facilities, as well as on local transport and accommodation. As Venice becomes more expensive and difficult to live in, permanent residents are leaving. Depopulation threatens the viability of Venice as a living, thriving city with real (non-tourist) Venetian people in it.

Venetians Leave Venice as Tourist Numbers Increase

In 1951 the population of Venice was 175,000. By 2020, there were less than 50,000 people living there. There are many reasons for the decline, both social and economic. These include the increasing cost of living, overcrowded transportation systems, the lack of well-paid job opportunities, retail stores being replaced by tourist souvenir shops, and rising housing costs as tourists compete for accommodation with locals. Tourist visitors to the city of Venice reached nearly 36 million in 2019. These large numbers of people are concentrated in an area less than 3 square miles (8 square kilometers). This results in a poor environment for locals as well as visitors.

Tourist cruise liners dock in the center of Venice at St Mark's Square. Each ship offloads thousands of day-only visitors.

Tourist cruise liners dock in the center of Venice at St Mark's Square. Each ship offloads thousands of day-only visitors.

Venice Daily Tourist Tax and Hotel City Tax

Venetians are starting to fight back; a new tourist tax has been introduced to help their city. Short stay tourists are charged up to €10 (£9; $11.50) to enter the historic areas of Venice. The fee is €2.50 to €5 per person, but at peak times it rises to €10. The tax is only levied on tourists, not on Venetian residents. There is also a city tax levied on hotel stays in the Venice area. The hotel occupancy tax (pre-pandemic) raises about €30m per annum, and the daily tourist tax generates around €50m per annum.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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