Venice will divert cruise ships from its historic city centerAndrea Smith

In a bid to preserve the artistic, cultural and environmental heritage of Venice, the Italian Government has decided to divert giant cruise ships and freight traffic over 40,000 tons away from the historic area.

According to the country’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini, the decision was influenced by Unesco’s call to reconcile the challenge of preserving the lagoon with the economics of cruise and freight activity. 

A cruise ship in Venice with smaller boats.
Cruise ships have been attracting negative attraction in Venice © Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

Cruise ships have attracted negative attraction in Venice over the last few years, particularly when a 13-deck MSC ship collided with a tourist boat docked on the Giudecca Canal in 2019, injuring several people. The event sparked protests city-wide, with many Venetians calling for a total ban on large cruise ships in the lagoon.

Venice’s port authority will now issue a public consultation to find alternative ports to handle large container ships and cruise ships outside the lagoon. This means that they will no longer pass Saint Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal, or share the space with gondolas and water taxis in the city center. Now that the decision has been taken to divert the vessels, they will have to make their way via an alternative route to Marghera, Venice’s often overlooked industrial centre, until a permanent solution is found.

Venice with no tourists is a rare spectacle

When tourism was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the absence of boats meant that Venice’s canals sparkled with unusually clear water. Huge schools of fish could be seen swimming around, and swans enjoyed having the clear water of the Serenissima to themselves.

The decision to divert large ships will please residents of Venice, who have expressed concern around sustainable tourism and environmental issues in recent years. Previous initiatives to prevent cruise ship traffic entering the area have not come to fruition, but this new decree will formally address the issue.

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