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Venice soon to be on UNESCO's Heritage Site in Danger List : Italy's efforts to combat the Challenges

Venice,"the city of love" known for its romantic atmosphere, is a beautiful city in Italy. It is also called the "La Serenissima" or "very serene" that reflects the calm and peaceful atmosphere of the city. The city's historic architecture with buildings dating back to the 13th century,  attracts millions of tourists. This city has many museums and galleries showcasing the city's art and history. Venice is also known as "la dominante" (the dominant), the "queen of the Adriatic" for its unique location on the Adriatic Sea and beautiful canals. 


Amidst these beautiful nicknames, Venice struggles to live up to these. However, it lives up to a recently acquired nickname, "The Sinking City". Recently, UNESCO experts have recommended Venice's inclusion in the list of heritage sites in danger. They also recommended 10 other sites. The decision of the new inclusion in the list of heritage sites in danger will be made in September in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after reviewing more than 200 sites.


Sinking Venice


Venice is at risk of "irreversible" damage. It is in danger of being lost forever. Too many factors are to be blamed for depriving Venice of its beauty from overwhelming tourism, overdevelopment, to rising sea levels caused by climate change. These factors combined have raised concerns about the preservation of Venice's unique heritage and cultural significance.


Primarily, Climate Change and Rising Sea Levels is a major threat to the existence of Venice. Experts believe that the warming planet has contributed to the situation in Venice. The city is surrounded by water and has been prone to flooding. Frequent flooding and erosion gas caused structural damage to the city's iconic landmarks and historic buildings such as St. Mark's Square and the Rialto Bridge. 


Additionally, Over tourism or mass tourism has strained the city's delicate ecosystem, local way of life and resources. Venice has been facing the challenges of mass tourism for years, with some 193,000 people squeezing into the historic centre on a single day during the 2019 Carnival. Uncontrolled visitors put immense pressure on its infrastructure and cultural heritage. Major cause of concern is the depopulation of the historic centre, which is eroding the authentic Venetian community.


Overpopulation in Venice


Moreover, The infrastructure and expansion projects that are being proposed could have a devastating impact on the city. UNESCO has already expressed concerns about the negative visual impact that high-rise buildings could have on Venice. It's clear that these projects need to be rethought and that the city's heritage needs to be protected.


Tragically, UNESCO stated that Italy has not been communicating effectively since its last Committee session in 2021, when the heritage agency threatened to blacklist Venice. The experts from UNESCO complained that they didn't receive enough responses to the multiple letters they sent to the Italian government. Some officials like Massimo Cacciari, one of Venice's former mayors also accused UNESCO to be an expensive and useless organisation, which passes judgement without knowledge and stated that the opinions of UNESCO should be disregarded.


It's heartbreaking to think that Venice could be lost forever. But it is never too late. Regarding this matter, Spokespersons for the Venice municipality have made statements that the city would carefully read the recommendation of the Center for UNESCO's World Heritage Committee and that they would discuss measures with the national government. Over the time, Italian Authorities through strategic planning have undertaken significant measures to protect Venice.


As Over-tourism is the top priority issue that has to be dealt with. Venice's mayor for social welfare, tourism, and economic development, Simone Venturini presented some measures to discourage quick day-trips and promote a more leisurely travel experience for visitors. Previously, around 100,000 tourists visited Venice daily, but under the new regulations, all tourists will be required to pay a €5 fee for a single-day visit, a move expected to be effective from 2023. They also added new gates to limit the number of people going into the old historic parts of the city.


Venice authorities have enhanced their surveillance on tourists by deploying 500 cameras across the city to closely monitor every visitor's movement. Live footage from these cameras are used to track and identify tourists. Maria Teresa Maniero, deputy commander at the Venice Police said that through this system they can analyse aggregated and anonymous data. This helps the authorities to differentiate between types of individuals like foreigners, Italians or locals. The system makes sure that people who live in Venice can still move around freely.


The Italian government is urging tourists to maintain the cleanliness and pollution-free status of Venice's canals, streets, and squares. A recent initiative actively encourages tourists to use public fountains for drinking water instead of using plastic bottles. They too launched a marketing campaign to educate tourists and distributed maps indicating the locations of the 126 safe-to-drink public fountains, including the iconic St. Mark's Square.


The Italian government is also working on a project called Electromechanical Experimental Module (in Italian, MOSE) to stop Venice from flooding. They're making 78 folding barriers at the entrances to the lagoon to keep the sea out. These barriers are being set up at the Lido, Malamocco, and Chioggia passages connecting the Venetian lagoon with the Adriatic Sea.


In conclusion, Venice is soon to experience the transition from being the "Serene City" to "Sinking City". The fate of Venice hangs in the balance, but there is still hope. Venice has a decent opportunity to delist itself from UNESCO's list of Heritage sites in danger by addressing major concerns like over-tourism, climate change and devastating urbanisation with international Collaboration or Venice might end up like other heritage sites that are already on the list including the historic centre of Odessa in Ukraine, the town of Timbuktu in Mali, Syria, Iraq, and Libya.

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