Venice is one of the most stunningly beautiful cities on the planet, but it has become vulnerable to the impact of climate change and mass tourism.
On July 31, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) proposed adding the floating hotspot of Venice, Italy, to its list of World Heritage in Danger. The growing concerns revolve around overcrowding and unsustainability. It is said that Italy is not doing enough to protect Venice from the growing challenges of climate change and mass tourism.
This designation identifies Venice as a vulnerable heritage site in need of support.
UNESCO World Heritage Committee
UNESCO proposed to put Venice on the list of World Heritage in Danger ahead of its 45th Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. This meeting is set to be held in Riyadh on September 10, 2023. A committee of 21 UNESCO member states will look over more than 200 sites and decide which ones to add to the danger list.
It is known that the list currently holds 55 locations around the world facing a variety of threats, including natural disasters, war, development projects, climate change, and more.
Apart from Venice, the experts also recommend adding some other sites to the danger list. Among these sites are the town of Timbuktu in Mali, the historic centre of Odessa, and several sites in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Kyiv, and Lviv.
The experts commented that, with regard to Venice, there has been no significant progress made. Properly addressing issues like mass tourism, climate change, and development projects remains a challenge for the Italian government. These issues are causing damage to urban areas and the destruction of building structures, threatening the social and cultural identity of Venice. Furthermore, it risks the integrity of its cultural, environmental, and landscape attributes and values.
UNESCO highlighted hindrances in resolving urgent issues due to a lack of overall joint strategic vision and ineffective management at all stakeholder levels.
UNESCO further added that the improvement initiatives recommended by the Italian state are “currently insufficient and not detailed enough.” Furthermore, since its last Committee session in 2021, Italy has not been communicating in a sustained and substantive manner. During that session, UNESCO had already threatened to blacklist Venice.
Venice: Facing the Challenges of Mass Tourism is No Secret
Through the passage of time, Venice, known for its cultural sites and canals, has been struggling with mass tourism.
The challenges facing the capital of Veneto are no secret. Hundreds of tourists are pushing the historic city to its limits. Let’s discuss some of these challenges:
- The population of Venice sits around 50,000, but it welcomes 110,000 daily visitors during peak tourist season. Annually, it expects around 25 million people.
- Venice has been preparing to charge day-trippers fees to control visitor numbers. This measure has been delayed due to objections.
- Mass tourism has also contributed to excessive littering, vastly affecting the environment. Therefore, Venice is implementing strict fines for littering. It further prohibits a long list of activities that could threaten the cultural landscape, including standing on bridges, picnicking at historic landmarks, cycling, and camping.
In 2021, UNESCO almost added Venice to its list, but it took back its decision after the city banned large cruise ships from sailing through the city’s centre.
Furthermore, Airport-like turnstiles are taking precautions to control the flow of people, and if the number rises too high, they prohibit new visitors from entering.
Climate Change: Another Pressing Cause to Add Venice to the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Climate change and extreme weather are also becoming increasingly serious threats to the city’s future, leaving experts demanding strict action.
The committee has already warned that climate change poses one of the most greatest threats to preserving cultural heritage sites.
- In February 2023, historic low tides dried up some of the city’s smaller lakes and canals.
- In 2019, record floods swept through Venice with alarming force, endangering historical treasures and buildings.
- As sea levels rise, the city will only become more vulnerable to flooding.
- Venice could be entirely underwater by 2100, as warned by climate scientists.
As said by Helene Marsh, a professor of environmental science, “It is tragic that the state of conservation of one of the most treasured cultural sites in the world is of such concern.”
Now, by adding Venice to the endangered category, UNESCO would be communicating urgency in its push to protect the city. This measure can help find solutions before things get worse.
One of the successful stories is the barrier reefs in Belize, which were added to the list in 2009. Government plans, along with the UNESCO partnership, helped eliminate the threats to the site by halting oil exploration and drilling.
Monika Schmitter, a scholar at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, highlighted that Venice has required a lot of maintenance and preventive measures throughout its history. These measures have been crucial for the preservation of this iconic city.
She further added, “The problem arises when they do not continuously take these measures.”
Should Venice make it onto UNESCO’s list, will it help overcome mass population and climate crises? Pour your thoughts and support into preserving this beautiful city’s cultural heritage. Share your ideas below.