After as many twists and turns as there are in its famous canals, Venice has finally made a firm decision and banned mega cruise ships from entering the Giudecca canal, leading into the heart of historic Venice.
Italy’s new Prime Minister decreed earlier this month that passenger ships over 40,000 tons, as well as container ships, will now be prohibited from passing through the city’s historic canals.
Instead, those large ships will be ‘temporarily’ relegated to docking in the very unpicturesque port of Marghera on the outskirts of the city, alongside an oil refinery and other industrial developments. To get to the city centre, cruise guests will have to be bussed, or transferred by water taxi, about 20 minutes away.
“Anyone who has visited Venice in recent years has been shocked to see these ships, hundreds of metres long and as tall as apartment buildings, passing through such fragile places,” Italy Culture Minister Dario Franceschini commented.
Prior to the pandemic, the UNESCO World Heritage site with only about 60,000 residents saw 25 million annual visitors, and was a poster child for the problems of overtourism. Cruising was condemned as one of the biggest contributors to the problem.
Conservationists have long been concerned about the damage done by enormous ships to the city’s historic buildings alongside its canals. Environmentalists have noted that during the pandemic’s complete absence of cruise ships, there has seen a remarkable restoration of water quality in Venice.
But the Venetian economy relies on tourism, especially cruise tourism. The Daily Beast points out, “Despite the historic center’s animosity the (cruising) industry is one of the most lucrative for the greater Venice region, bringing around $450 million annually and employing 4,000 people with permanent jobs.”
The ban does not include smaller ships, and reports say the decree doesn’t actually deliver a full stop to the large ships. “The fine print of Draghi’s ban says the government intends to build a new port, even calling for a competition of ideas.”
Even with the new decree, there remains a tug of war between the environmentalists, architectural conservationists, residents, and businesses in the city about how to strike the right balance – and what role cruise ships and their guests should play in a return to travel and prosperity.