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As regular readers of this blog will know, last spring we cruised from Southampton all the way to Venice. The highlight of the cruise for many people was the arrival there at breakfast-time: we sailed into Venetian lagoon at the north of the Lido, then headed round the eastern tip of the city before cruising slowly past its southern side until we were level with the Doge’s Palace and the Piazetta San Marco; then we headed past the entrance to the Grand Canal and went up the Canale della Giudecca towards the cruise terminals at the western end of the city. This entrance into Venice had been heavily advertised the evening before, and pretty much every foot of deck railing space was occupied by those who didn’t have balcony cabins on the starboard side. The cruise director was using the ship’s PA system to explain to people what they were seeing, interspersed with excerpts from Italian operas – I seem to recall that Nessun dorma featured quite heavily. For many passengers, I think this really was one of the highlights of the cruise, and it was something that they had been looking forward to since it began. However, it may not be something that will happen very often in the future as there is considerable, and increasing, opposition to it.

The opposition has two main thrusts: environmental and aesthetic. The environmental argument says that the cruise ships are responsible for atmospheric pollution in the city, and that the passage of the enormous vessels causes erosion of the buildings’ foundations. I don’t think it’s so much the larger buildings such as the Doge’s Palace or the churches that are passed (such as San Giorgio Maggiore) that cause the most concern; instead the suggestion is that the greatest amount of damage occurs to smaller and humbler buildings. The ships push volumes of water up the small side canals, and these steadily wash away the foundations of the buildings, mostly ordinary houses, that are located on these side canals. There are other perhaps more anecdotal stories: one suggests that when a cruise liner passes, toilets in nearby houses can back up. (Though this might be as much to with the plumbing as with anything else.) As regards the air pollution, it’s claimed that the cruise ships are responsible for ‘up to’ 30% of the city’s air pollution. (Don’t forget that Venice effectively has no conventional traffic.)

The aesthetic objections are easier to understand. The modern generation of enormous cruise ships are simply out of scale with Venice. To be looking down on the top of St Mark’s Cathedral, for example, or alongside the dome of San Giorgio Maggiore, is simply not right; Venice was designed for the human scale, and for these structures to be viewed from ground level. And from the ground, too, the ships are a shocking intrusion into one of the most exciting yet harmonious cityscapes ever created.

These two streams of objections, which have been mounting steadily over recent years but have increased dramatically since the Costa Concordia grounding, come from various sources: the city’s mayor, numerous inhabitants, and from UNESCO (which has a  regional office in Venice). Here’s a link to a summary of some comments, and here’s a recent UNESCO press release which included this statement:

The cruise liner traffic in Venice is particularly damaging because of the fragile structure of the city. The ships cause water tides that erode the foundations of buildings. They contribute to pollution and impact the cityscape as they dwarf monuments in the heart of the city.

So what changes are sought? Well, as a minimum, that cruise ships should not pass so close to St Mark’s or along the Canale della Giudecca. I suppose it’s hoped that they could pass to the south of Isola di Giudecca; possibly even entering the lagoon from the southern end of the Lido and then sailing almost due north straight to the cruise terminal. The map shown above (click for a bigger version) suggests that there is a navigable route from the south to Maghera, and all that would be needed would be an additional channel to the Maritime basin on the western end of the city. I say “all that would be needed”! – I imagine however that any proposal for dredging a new channel would itself cause much discussion and argument. The other alternative is that cruise ships should not go into Venice city itself at all, but should instead berth at the existing port of Maghera. Here’s a link to the Port Authority’s web site, in  English. It’s interesting that the port authority already covers both Venice (city) and Maghera.

My view on this, for what it’s worth, is that preserving or protecting Venice is well worth losing the grandstand view during sail-in or sail-out. If possible I’d prefer to continue to arrive at the Maritime Basin in the city, but if the only realistic solution is berthing at Maghera then that’s what it has to be. Venice is worth the extra hassle.

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