Venice was pure decadence; it reminded me of the decline of the Amberson family in Welles’s semi-forgotten masterwork, or more aptly the great ball sequence that closes The Leopard (1963). There was a sense about the place that I was walking the streets and traversing the canals of a city on the edge of time, an opulent remnant grasping on to another era. That bygone age becoming more irrelevant and forgotten by the day, it is now eroded by the pernicious intents of globalisation, nowhere more evident than in the installation of garish vending machines in the city’s piazzas.
Declared world heritage status by UNESCO, Venice now houses only 55,000 permanent inhabitants who must endure up to 30,000 cruise ship passengers a day, with an estimate 22 million visitors a year swarming into the archaic Republic.
Venetians blame this tourism for the miniscule, still dwindling population. The catechism is that tourists’ need for short-term accommodation increases rent prices, with much available property utilised by landlords for holiday rentals as opposed to residents or long-term tenants. It’s an issue of space, and Venice can’t be built *upwards*. As summed up by UNESCO: “The capacity of the city, the number of its inhabitants and the number of tourists is out of balance and causing significant damage to the city.”
The Queen of the Adriatic is no doubt in need of more than a lick of paint, such is the deterioration of its buildings and canals through simply too many people cramming into such a tiny lagoon. But without the hordes of holidaymakers, and I am one of these vermin myself, Venice would surely melt away into Atlantis, a world unto itself, and though there’s something bittersweet and fatally beautiful about such a proposition, it demands an economy that ticks, and its permanent residents, however grating the experience, depend upon the premise of tourists spunking their bum bags of cash up the wall (or into the lagoon).
There’s an argument that as something becomes more accessible it loses its aura, especially where cities are concerned, as if tourism is still the grand pursuit of the elite. Those days (I hope) are over. What must be done – the repairs, the concerted efforts by city administrators to study, manage, and maintain the integrity of its structures – has been thoroughly articulated by UNESCO. Speed limits on motor boats (to prevent wave erosion) and a buffer zone around the lagoon are just a couple of the common sense solutions that have yet to be implemented. A masterpiece needs periodic renovation, constant conservation, and the consultation of its most vital components – its makers.
For further reading, please check out the following:
Italian Environment Fund: http://www.fondoambiente.it/