Venice avoids designation as Unesco heritage site in danger

Unesco’s World Heritage Committee has instead asked the Italian government to provide updates on protection efforts by December 2022.

Italy Venice UNESCO
Italy Venice UNESCO

Venice and its lagoon environment avoided being placed on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites in danger on Thursday following Italy’s ban on massive cruise ships traveling through the city’s historic centre.

Preservation groups immediately criticised the decision by Unesco’s World Heritage Committee.

The committee, which is meeting in China, instead has asked Italy to submit by December 2022 an update on efforts to protect Venice from excessive tourism, population decline and other issues that will be considered at a meeting in 2023.

This month the Italian government moved to avoid the danger designation, pledging to reroute massive cruise ships starting August 1 from the historic centre to an industrial port still within the Venice lagoon.

Italy Venice UNESCO
“No Big Ships” activists stage a protest as the MSC Orchestra cruise ship leaves Venice, Italy (Antonio Calanni/AP)

The ships’ passage through St Mark’s Basin and the Giudecca Canal, which resumed recently after a long pandemic pause, was among the reasons Unesco had cited for listing Venice’s status as at risk.

Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini welcomed the decision and credited the government’s recent move to ban ships over 25,000 tons from Venice waterways facing St Mark’s Basilica and the Doges Palace.

“Now, the global attention on Venice must remain high, and it is everyone’s duty to work for the protection of the lagoon and identify a sustainable development path for this unique reality,” Mr Franceschini said in a statement.

But non-governmental groups acting as observers to the process said the cruise ship ban only addressed one of many issues threatening Venice, which include over-tourism, the management of cultural and natural resources, and controlling urban development.

The groups also said the temporary decision to moor cruise ships in the industrial port of Marghera still endangers the lagoon and that no long-term plans have been made yet to manage ships and tourism in the city.

“The persistent issues afflicting the precarious state of conservation of Venice and its lagoon has long been associated with a complex and ineffective governance framework,” Stephan Doempke, chairman of World Heritage Watch, told the Unesco committee.

“It lacks a long-term vision and a strategy involving the local community.”

Mass tourism to Venice peaked at some 25 million individual visitors in 2019, while the city of just over 50,000 residents loses about 1,000 Venetians each year.

Unesco’s World Heritage Centre recommended last month adding Venice to the endangered list as a way to alert the international community to the urgency of the city’s situation.

The centre’s director, Mechtild Roessler, told the Associated Press that the designation is intended to foster a response that will help protect important at-risk sites in danger and resolve issues.

Still, such a designation is widely viewed as a rebuke of the local management of World Heritage sites, places which Unesco recognises for their outstanding universal value to humanity.

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