Archive for the ‘Venice’ Category

Part of Dubrovnik harbour

I’m sure many people will have read this story on the BBC News website yesterday (16 July 2017). My response to the story has gone through the usual gamut of reactions – annoyance, analysis of the errors in the article, and eventual acceptance that there is a problem.

I did notice the following issues that I’d take issue with in the story:-

  • the ship in the picture is MSC Divina, and the location is St Mark’s Basin in Venice. Since regulations were introduced for the 2016 season, ships the size of the Divina (which I agree is huge….) no longer call at Venice, nor do they (as Divina did) start and finish cruises there. So that image is certainly a couple of years old;
  • Despite the picture of Venice at top of the article, the text hardly mentions that city. It’s mostly about Dubrovnik and Capri;
  • and the article does accept that cruise passengers aren’t the only visitors to those places.

But – there is no question that many places do experience tourist visitors on a scale that’s hard for them to accommodate; and that the number of visitors is affecting the experience that the visitors have. My own visit to the Acropolis in Athens, for example, was awful, and in Florence we felt that (as the article suggests) we were encountering only tourists or those serving their needs.

Of course, many of these small, comparatively remote places have become much easier to get to in the last couple of decades. It’s not just cruise companies but also budget airlines – easyJet, Ryanair, Jet2, and so on – who have made access to Venice,  Dubrovnik or Capri so easy. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to get to Venice even as recently as, say, 1990 – flight to Rome (from where?), possibly followed by a really expensive flight to Venice airport, but more likely a complicated train journey through Mestre to Venice itself. Similarly, Dubrovnik might have been accessible during the 70s and 80s, as communist Yugoslavia followed its independent line (independent of Moscow, that is) but at that time tourism was quite tightly controlled – the great majority of tourists came on package holidays and were encouraged to stay in the resort areas, e.g. Pula or Rovinj in Istria;  visits to other places mainly took place as organised excursions. Then of course the Yugoslav war broke out in 1991 and it was the late 90s, or even the early 00s, before tourism recovered along the Dalmatian coast. By that time the budget airlines, and the cruise lines, were ready with their offerings.

I also think that in the places where the protests are biggest, there is another factor at play. I know that in the case of Venice many of the local people feel that they have lost control of their environment. This isn’t just because of the numbers of tourists, but because of the structure of local government. Many of these places are quite small – the population of historic Venice is around 50,000, for example – but they are included in larger local government units. For example, the municipality of Venice has a total population of about 250,000, some three-quarters of whom live on the mainland and not in the historic city. The elected officials – especially the mayor, who in the Italian system has considerable power – are likely to draw the majority of their support from outside the historic city, and from areas where the concerns will be different. Residents of the historic city may have a different view on tourism promotion from residents on the mainland, for example, but it is the latter – who make up the majority of the municipality’s population – who will have the major say in decisions. It’s also the case that a crucial player in the Venice infrastructure, the Port of Venice, does not appear to be controlled by the municipality; it’s an independent authority (or so I believe). And of course it, too, is mainly based on the mainland (where there are significant container-handling and bulk cargo facilities), so once again the people most connected with the historic city feel that decisions that affect them greatly are being taken by an entity over which they have little influence or power.

I apologise if this is coming across as rather rambling. That probably results from my own feelings, which tilt back and forwards on this issue. Of course I love going to these wonderful places, but more and more I’m wondering if, or to what extent, my presence (along with that of millions of other people, of course) is damaging the very places I enjoy visiting. It’s a difficult issue, and one on which I’m still undecided. Swithering, as the Scots say.


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UNESCO currently lists 1052 sites, world-wide, that are officially recognised as ‘World Heritage Sites’. Italy is the current champion nation – it has 51 world heritage sites (the UK and British overseas Territories has 30). One of Italy’s greatest World Heritage sites is ‘Venice and its Lagoon’, and quite right too.

However, there is a process by which a listed site can be de-listed, and the first formal step in this process is an official statement that the site is ‘In Danger’. The Italian government has apparently been on notice for a few years that Venice might be placed on the ‘In Danger’ list. Formal consideration of this was avoided at last year’s meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee thanks to strenuous lobbying by the Italian government to remove the issue from the agenda, but it may be considered at this year’s meeting of the Committee which will be held in Krakow between 2nd and 12th July. The reason for the possible ‘In Danger’ status is the impact of tourism on Venice, and cruise ships are held to be the worst example of tourism in Venice. With the approach of the committee meeting scapegoats are already being sought should the ‘In Danger listing happen, and the cruise industry seems to be first in the firing line.

Regular readers will be aware that I’ve done a number of articles over the years about the arguments regarding cruise ships in Venice. The present position is:

  • ships with a tonnage over 96,000 are prohibited from traversing St Mark’s Basin, which effectively prevents them from getting to the Venice cruise terminal;
  • a maximum of four ships at a time are allowed in the cruise terminal;
  • efforts are being made to find an alternative channel to the cruise terminal that won’t require a transit of St Mark’s Basin. In practice the only possibility is the restoration of an old channel from the mainland shore to the terminal.


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Venice paints a vivid picture

CW6IvbjUkAA3fB_.png-largePlease take a look at the image alongside. It’s very attractive; I especially like the lovely warm glow it has. In fact, I’d be very pleased if I’d taken it myself.

It came from Celebrity Cruises UK on their Twitter feed (@CelebrityUK) – I’m following them. So far, so good, but then they rather spoiled it by adding the following text to the image: “A city built by Italy’s best architects. Venice paints a vivid picture”.

I was a bit confused by this as the last time I saw this bridge, it was in Florence. I wasn’t the only one to think so as several others made the same point. I’m pleased to say that @CelebrityUK replied, agreeing that it was indeed in Florence.

Now we just wait for a Venice picture….

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More Venice Malarkey!

I’ve read that the Veneto Regional Court of Appeal (Veneto region includes Venice) has ‘thrown out’ the new regulations that came into force in November. These regulations, as I’m sure you’ll be aware, prevented ships over 96,000 tons from sailing through St Mark’s basin and up the Giudecca canal – which, seeing as there’s no other way to the cruise terminal, effectively banned such large ships from calling at Venice. (There were also limitations on movements of smaller ships.) Now the new regulations have been lifted by the Regional court. So hurray! I hear you all cheer – that means we can have Oasis of the Seas in Venice in a few months’ time!

Err, no. This year’s cruise ship schedules are already determined. Brochures were printed and issued 9 months ago, bookings have been taken, and support and supply contracts let, so there’ll be no change for 2015. More significantly, they must be putting the final touches to their planned deployments for 2016 right now – the brochures for that year will be available from this spring, and once they’re published it becomes very difficult to make any changes. The cruise lines must be furious about the constant to-ing and fro-ing over this question – what they want above all is consistency.

Here in fact is what the Cruise Lines Industry Association (CLIA) had to say:

We acknowledge and respect the verdict of Veneto’s Regional Administrative Court. CLIA and its member lines have chosen to voluntarily refrain from bringing ships above 96,000 tons to Venice until a new navigational route becomes operational. We are looking forward to welcoming a final decision by the Italian government on the alternative route for big ships in Venice.”

However, the provision of funding for that new route is still uncertain, indeed, is unknown. Who knows how long this will continue? One thing is certain, if the regulatory position remains undecided then eventually some company in the industry will start running cruises on big ships into Venice. Maybe not in 2015, but 2016 would be a strong possibility.

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Venice – more restrictions!

But not this time about ships. No, this time there’s a move to ban “noisy wheeled luggage”. Here’s link to the story on the BBC News site. (Update: Liz in Venice says that the Special Commissioner for Venice has denied the whole story – see her comment below.)

This is simply not going to work. We’ve visited Venice twice. Once was on a cruise, in which circumstance the luggage issue didn’t arise, and the second time was on a weekend break. For that visit our luggage consisted of two small airline cabin bags. We took the ATVO bus from the airport to Piazzale Roma, crossed the Grand Canal and then walked to our hotel at the far end of Cannaregio. While part of this was along a couple of reasonably-wide and bridge-free ‘roads’, the far end of the walk involved smaller streets and lot of small, hump-backed bridges over small canals or branches of canals. You probably have to pick the bag up while going over the bridges, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be carrying my bag, even that fairly light carry-on bag, for any length of time. And as for carrying a large bag all that way – just not possible. All through that weekend we saw a number of people with large bags and they were obviously wilting just having to carry them over the bridges. Carrying them all the way from the roadhead at Piazzale Roma or the station just the other side of the Grand Canal just isn’t feasible. The image below shows how awkward some small canal bridges can be – after struggling over that, you wouldn’t want to carry you bag much further, you’d pull it along if you could.

There are alternatives, of course. If your hotel is close to a vaporetto route you could take one of them from Piazzale Roma. That said, I wouldn’t want to try it at a busy time – the vaporettos can get very busy and crowded, and struggling on and off them with luggage doesn’t look like fun. (I’ve seen people doing it.) Alternatively, if your hotel is reasonably near a canal you could travel to it in a water taxi launch. There’s no doubt, there is a huge ‘cool’ factor in doing this – the picture on that BBC News site is of a gaggle of such launches during the Alamuddin/Clooney nuptials, I believe – but there’s an equally huge cost factor – €110 or more from the airport to the hotel, or at least €50 from Piazzale Roma to your hotel. Even then, unless your hotel is on a canal and ideally has a water gate, you’ll be finishing off the journey on foot, dragging (or carrying) your bags.

Maybe Venice has just decided that to get rid of mass tourism? A return to the Belle Epoque when there were few visitors  who all stayed at the luxury hotels along the main canals and could afford the water-taxis? Well, maybe. It would be a profound change to the city and perhaps not entirely negative. But if that’s the plan, they should say so. And to be honest, I am glad I’ve visited Venice – it is a profoundly beautiful city on a very human scale, and I think my life is better for having been there. While I recognise the problems that mass tourism can bring to a place, I wouldn’t want the benefit I’ve received to not be available to others.



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Another option for Venice

Following the decision that the ban on the largest ships would be implemented, and a reduction made in the number of medium-sized ships passing through St Mark’s basin, it had been assumed that the only long-term option was the dredging of a new channel linking the existing coast-hugging deep water commercial channel up to the port of Maghera on the mainland with the Venice cruise terminal. This channel (now known as the Contorta-Sant’Angelo channel) would be 4.8 kilometres long, would cost €115m, and the whole project would take up to two years. Now there’s a new proposal.

This would see a new, free-standing jetty being built out of prefabricated concrete units and situated to the east of St Mark’s basin – somewhere just outside the sea-defence gates near the bottom of the Lido, I think. From there passengers would transit through St Mark’s basin to the existing cruise terminal in some sort of ferry – the current suggestion refers to a ‘large catamaran’ for this transit. For cruise turnrounds (and several lines do turnrounds in Venice, e.g. MSC, Costa, NCL, and of course P&O), check in would be done at the cruise terminal and then passengers would be conveyed to the ship in the ‘ferry’.

It all sounds reasonably practical, until you start to think of all the services that the ships need. There’s food, of course, which at the moment can be delivered by road – the cruise berths are literally at the end of the road in Venice. Delivering food and drink stocks for a new cruise to this new location would involve transhipping them from a road vehicle to a sea-going one, and then onto the ship. Passengers’ luggage will also have to be moved by water from the ship to the cruise terminals, and vice-versa. The catamaran would have to be running all day, as passengers will want to be able to leave and return to the ship whenever they wished. And of course the ships themselves will also need to be bunkered and perhaps have fresh water delivered. Provision for these services is already built-in at the cruise terminal, and shifting that provision out to a quay to the east will be expensive and fraught with some risk – what’s the environmental hazard of moving a bunker barge from the cruise terminal (where the pipeline ends) down the Giudecca canal, past St Mark’s, and on out through part of the lagoon to the Lido?

Sorry, I don’t think this one will work. There don’t even seem to be any cost advantages – the initial estimate is said to be €128m and would take two years to construct and introduce.

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I did a post earlier this week on how the proposed restriction on the largest ships sailing into Venice – those over 96000 tons – was being reinstated after being suspended by a regional court. That post elicited a long and well-argued comment from a reader. I was going to just approve it as a comment, but then I felt that it was worth highlighting in a post of its own. So here, with her agreement, is the comment from Lizzie Salthouse who is a resident of Venice:

An interesting post, thanks but I would like to offer the other side to the argument if I may.

The Concordia disaster is only one factor in the opposition to cruise ships within the lagoon which has been going on for years. And its not so much the risk of a cruise ship crashing into an underwater reef (and you’re right, there aren’t any in Venice), its more that the implications of an accident, whatever the cause, in the UNESCO heritage city of Venice would be catastrophic not just for the city and its environment but also for the tourist trade on which it relies. Its worth noting that UNESCO is reportedly against cruise ships within the lagoon.

  • Other factors include the damage done by waves created by the big ships (which are getting bigger every year) which damage the lagoon shorefronts and stone buildings,
  • sediment displacement which damages the sea floor,
  • increased flooding risk to the historic city caused by deepening the canals to allow cruise ships into the lagoon
  • environmental damage via pollution & greenhouse gas emissions
  • ecosystem destruction to make way for the cruise ships (assuming the proposed new route goes ahead it will destroy mud flats currently used by wading birds & other coastal flora and fauna)
  • alleged political corruption

Plus if you’ve ever spent any time in Venice you will have seen the behemoth cruise ships towering over the tiny Venetian houses along the Giudecca as the ships tip toe along a canal that is a key transport route for local boats. Some of the large ships are 3 times the height of the buildings, many of which are of international importance.

Cruise ships do not have the inviolable right to sail past St Marks and need to take responsibility for the risk they pose and the damage that they’re doing to the very city they’re coming to see. Tourists themselves also have a responsibility not to damage or degrade the places they visit and ensure that the transport methods and tour companies that they use are not exploiting their hosts or the environment. Cruise ships regularly dock at other cities via out of town ports and transport passengers into town by coach ( or in this case, boat ). This would offer a safe solution and would also create jobs for the Venice economy.

For more information watch this video – “Big Cruise Ships – whats at stake”, or take a look at Comitato Nograndinavi’s Facebook page which offers much more detail in Italian and English.


Note : Also I’m not sure that the alternative route suggested is really the answer but we’ll have to wait for the review report later this year.

Thanks to Lizzie for taking the time to write so eloquently. She has her own blog, dreamdiscoveritalia. Lots of interesting content, if (like me) you love Italy.

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