Venice, to be or not to be a UNESCO ‘World Heritage in Danger’? That is the question.

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    The beginnings: How Venetians convinced UNESCO to visit their city

    Venice and its lagoon have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

    Several heritage protection organizations in Italy, as well as Venetian organizations, have contacted UNESCO in recent years, claiming that the city had reached a crisis point and warning that local authorities were no longer capable of protecting Venice.

    As a result, experts from UNESCO/ICOMOS/RAMSAR arrived in Venice in October 2015 to conduct a reactive monitoring mission on “Venice and its lagoon,” as requested by the World Heritage Committee, to assess “current conditions at the property.”

    First came the Unesco report on Venice

    Following the notable visit, UNESCO published the resulting consultative report in July 2016, which was discussed at the UNESCO meeting later that month in Istambul.

    The document stated that Venice is in danger and demanded immediate improvements!

    The improvements expected by UNESCO

    The committee and the report stated that UNESCO was considering adding Venice and its lagoon to the List of ‘World Heritage in Danger’ at its 41st session in 2017 if city management did not change drastically.

    The mandatory requirements of UNESCO are the following:

    – the creation of a sustainable tourism strategy
    – the regulation of the speed, number, and type of boats entering the Lagoon, as short-term measures.
    – the future prohibition, of the largest ships and tankers entering the Lagoon.
    – the suspension of all new projects permits prior to the assessment of the Management Plan and prior to submission of details to the World Heritage Centre.

    But what is the World Heritage in Danger list?

    The ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list includes sites ‘under serious and specific dangers’ where ‘major operations are necessary and for which assistance has been requested under this Convention.’

    A quick look at the sites included in the list shows that most of them already are either in war or poaching zones.

    In the west, so far, only the city of Liverpool was put on the list of endangered sites.

    UNESCO thought about removing Venice from its World Heritage Site list

    On the 14th of July 2016, the UNESCO committee adopted a resolution threatening Venice and its lagoon with inclusion on the list of “World Heritage in Danger” at its 41st session in 2017 if no significant changes in the city’s management were observed by February 2017.

    In order to assess the progress of Venice in meeting UNESCO requirements, the committee called for a meeting before the 1st of February 2017.

    Paris, Paris...Meeting UNESCO before it's too late

    Few days before the beginning of February, on the 24th of January 2017, the Venice Mayor Gianluigi Brugnaro and a delegation of 15 people went to Paris to meet the Committee, at UNESCO Headquarters, in the presence of representatives of the Italian government in order to discuss the measures undertaken by the Venice Municipality.

    Brugnaro, the Mayor of Venice, presented the committee with a 70-page document outlining the countermeasures implemented and the city’s future plans, as well as strategies for environmental and population protection.

    UNESCO reports on this meeting in the following words:

    ‘This meeting follows the Director-General’s visit to Venice on 3 and 4 November 2016, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Venice flood.

    The discussion focused on measures taken by the Italian authorities and the Municipality of Venice to ensure the long-term protection of the site. The meeting of the World Heritage Committee in July 2016 made a number of recommendations and asked that Italy report on its actions before 1 February 2017.

    The Italian authorities reaffirmed their total commitment to respond to the concerns raised by the World Heritage Committee in July 2016 regarding the preservation of the city of Venice. This commitment resulted in the adoption of a new “Pact for Venice”, signed on 26 November last, planning for the investment of some 457 million Euros in preservation initiatives in the city and its lagoon over the next four years. In addition, as part of the National Strategic Plan for the Development of Tourism presented by the Ministry of Cultural Activities and Tourism on 16 December last, the objective of which is to put sustainable tourism at the center of national policies, a specific pilot action is planned to monitor and manage tourist flows in Venice.

    “Venice is a shared heritage of outstanding universal value. Working hand-in-hand, UNESCO with the Government, the Municipality, and all stakeholders, is the only way forward. This morning the mayor of Venice presented to me in detail the great number of measures taken and the concrete projects that he intends to carry out. I understand the strength of the commitment jointly led by the municipality and the Government — we will continue to move forward in this spirit.” said Irina Bokova.

    “My presence today is a sign of Venice’s trust and commitment to the international cooperation. I have presented this morning to the Director-General the progress made during the last 15 months by the city of Venice, which shows a strong commitment to the revitalization of the city and a clear trend reversal. I hope that this meeting will be the starting point of a cooperation that builds a new vision for Venice in the next 20 years, where all are committed to a better future for young people and future generations.” said Mayor Luigi Brugnaro.

    The bilateral meeting between the Director-General and the Mayor was followed by working meetings to explore various aspects of the management of the World Heritage site.’

    Upon receiving the file, the General Director of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, thanked the Venice Mayor on behalf of the Committee.

    The report had been analyzed and a final decision was taken at the 42nd UNESCO meeting on the 2nd of July in Cracow: Venice was not put on the World Heritage in Danger list.

    But Venice has been looking at Paris...

    Some countermeasures adopted by the city improved the quality of life of the local population, such as granting priority access to public water buses to Venetians.

    However, other and more important matters such as the lack of housing and social housing in the city of Venice have not been addressed thoroughly.

    Venetians are being forced out of their city because there isn’t enough private housing. This is because locals’ homes and apartments are being turned into rentals for tourists without any rules. Also, there isn’t a good public housing policy or administration, which is why there are about 600 empty public apartments in Venice.

    Cruise liners, also known as Big Ships in the local community, are not and will not be prohibited from entering the lagoon.

    Despite UNESCO’s express request, the Venice Municipality refuses to find an alternative solution to the Venice Port and is planning the construction of a new large canal in Venice’s lagoon.

    In August 2021, the Italian State has prohibited big cruise ships from passing through Venice and right in front of Saint Mark’s Square. However, cruise ships still enter the Venetian Lagoon and dock in the harbour of Marghera, a city on the mainland a few kilometres away from Venice.

    There has been no countermeasure to regulate the speed and number of motorboats in Venice. The constant waves caused by motorboats, known as “moto ondoso,” are still a daunting problem responsible for the erosion of the foundations of Venetian buildings.

    Moratorium for Venice: UNESCO grants 2 extra years to the local administration which claims to be undergoing positive changes for the city

    Despite a lack of measures to address several crucial problems highlighted by the Unesco report on Venice, the city has not been placed on the World Heritage in Danger list.

    Indeed, on the 2nd of July 2018 in Krakow, the committee decided not to move Venice from the heritage list to the endangered one.

    This decision has been taken as a follow-up to the Paris meeting between Venice’s mayor and the committee and underlines the appreciation from the latter of the countermeasures adopted by the city of Venice.

    Local associations and several Venetians were surprised and angered by the committee’s decision.

    A new attempt at regulating tourism in Venice

    On the 1st of July 2022, the chief of tourism of Venice Simone Venturini has announced that day-trippers will be charged a tax for visiting the city.

    Indeed, although the measure had been in the works since 2019, Venturini has confirmed that the new booking system will be launched on the 16th of January 2023.

    Ticket prices will range from €3 to €10, depending on the number of expected day-trippers.

    The full fee will thus be charged during city periods such as the summer holidays, regattas and festivals, and Easter.

    This new measure does not include a visitor cap.


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