In the latest installment of a long-running drama, the Italian cabinet passed a law this week banning large cruise ships from the historic city center of Venice.
The government says the move aims to “reconcile the needs to protect the artistic, cultural and environmental heritage of Venice and its lagoon with those related to cruise activity and goods traffic.”
Founded in the 5th century and spread over 118 small islands surrounded by a shallow lagoon, Venice became a major maritime power over a thousand years ago. The city and its lagoon are designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, which describes Venice as “an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.”
The Latest Attempt To Control Overtourism In Venice
The ban on large cruise ships is the city’s latest attempt to control overtourism. Venice has a population of under 60,000, with another 200,000 in the surrounding area. Before the pandemic, about 25 million people a year came to experience its wonders, with about 20 percent of them spending a night in the city.
READ MORE: 5 Things to Do in Venice By Cruise Ship
In 2018, Venice levied a tax on all visitors to the city center, an addition to an earlier fee applied to overnight stays. There have also been previous attempts to ban mega-ships from the Venetian Lagoon, some of them derailed by frequent changes of government in the European nation.
Dario Franceschini, Italy’s minister of culture, said in a tweet that the ban on cruise ships over 40,000 gross tons was the “correct decision, and one that had been waited for for years.” He said visitors were often shocked by the incongruous sight of cruise ships “hundreds of meters long and as tall as apartment buildings,” passing in front of St. Mark’s Square.
Cruise Ship Crash In 2019 Spurred Opposition
It wasn’t just aesthetics that concerned activists. There were complaints that the large ships damaged the ecosystem of the shallow lagoon, and there were safety fears too, exacerbated by a 2019 accident when the 900 ft. long MSC Opera crashed into a docked river cruise ship and a tourist wharf, injuring four people.
Due to the global pandemic, cruise ships have been absent from Venice for over a year. When cruising returns, large ships will no longer be permitted to pass the famous square and must seek new docking sites outside the lagoon.
In the short term, the government plans to detour cruise ships to the port of Marghera, the industrial hub on the lagoon about six miles from the city center. The longer-term goal is to build a permanent cruise ship terminal at the Lido entrance to the lagoon, but that could be years away.
One of the biggest players in the years-long battle to ban large vessels is the ‘Comitato Nograndinavi’ — in English the ‘No Bigs Ships Committee.’ The group celebrated the victory on its Facebook page.
“After nine years of struggle, nine years of mobilization, parades, initiatives and trials against activists and activists, now for the first time the government sides with the voice of the city: big ships are not compatible with the Venice lagoon,” the group stated.
A Lasting Solution Is Likely Years Away
A lasting solution to a long-troubling problem is likely years away. Critics say the temporary plan for docking in Marghera isn’t enough. They want large ships banned entirely from the lagoon.
And Cesare De Piccoli, a former lawmaker from Venice involved with the issue, says the temporary solution in Marghera won’t be pleasing to cruise passengers either.
“You’re going to have tourists that think they’re going to see St. Mark’s but find themselves in front of an oil refinery,” De Piccoli told the New York Times.
Italy’s Ministry of Transport described the cruise ship ban as “a first step” toward a definitive solution to the problem of large ships entering the city.