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Heated protests in the cold Venetian water

Now almost a month into my exchange in Venice, full of pasta and Spritz, I decided it would be nice to write a bit about what is going on here behind the busy tourist streets and crowded San Marco square.

“No Grandi Navi”

These three words can be seen and heard all over Venice at the moment. They represent the shared sentiment of Venetian locals against the massive cruise ships that are allowed into the canal of Guidecca in the centre of Venice, passing the San Marco square at a distance of less than 150 metres. These 300 metre-long naval juggernauts might seem harmless at first sight, even profitable for local businesses. Unfortunately, the reality is different. So different that it causes more than ten thousand Venetians to take a stand against  cruiserism every year.

The “No Grandi Navi” (“no big ships”) movement does not take a stand without solid reasons. The truth is that these bathing behemoths are literally sinking Venice bit by bit. The ships erode the sediment every single time they pass through the ancient lagoon, and trust me, they pass it often. Since I live on an island minutes from Venice, I have no other option but to take the Vaporetto (literally a bus on water) every day onto the main Venetian island. And almost every day I can see them cruising past me at a distance of less than 50 metres.

From an economic and touristic point of view, I can understand why these ships are still here. Even I am quite eager to see what the ancient streets of Venice look like from above. But this ten-minute view is not worth jeopardising the existence of this beautiful century-old landmass in the lagoon.

For the longest time here in Venice, tourism in general has been at the centre of fierce debate. After being here for a little short of a month, I can really understand the frustration coming from some of the locals here. Of course Venice thrives on the tourism industry, there is no arguing that. But having to take the boat to university whilst being trapped between a dozen tourists can become a bit annoying. Or seeing a postman struggling to push his cumbersome cart through slow-moving crowds on a daily basis does reveal a different perspective on the whole situation.

Although normal tourists can be annoying for the locals, they are still very beneficial to them, as the food and hospitality industries are two of the main economic drivers on the island. But the problem with cruise ship tourists is that they do not patronize these markets, since they only ever eat and sleep on their luxury liners.

For years, the “No Grandi Navi” supporters have organised protests in the most Venetian way possible- with their boats. I was at one of these protests two weeks ago, and it was an interesting experience to say the least. The central Venetian lagoon was filled with hundreds of tiny boats, all sporting the same iconic flag. And it was all happening while a cruise ship was passing through the lagoon as well, making for quite an impressive scene.

Of course I will never be able to fully relate to the Venetians on this issue. But I nonetheless feel it is an important issue that needs to be shared with our readers. In my opinion it shows a darker side to the effects of tourism- what may seem harmless to some, can actually have very real and devastating consequences. It seems that there is a lot more going on underneath the surface of Venice, and in that way, the city is just like an iceberg. But this time it is the cruise ship that is slowly sinking the iceberg, rather than the other way around.


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