In am unexpected decision, Venice and its famous lagoon have been excluded from UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee is currently meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, until 25 September 2023.
Previously this summer, Italy had faced dire warnings that it was not doing enough to protect Venice (added to the list of World Heritage in 1987) from the triple threat of overtourism, development and climate change. Signatories to the convention undertake to protect listed heritage from harm.
Many Italian cities are characterised by fragile artworks and monuments and the nation has suffered a huge number of problematic incidents with tourists in recent years. Yet the country’s authorities hailed as a triumph the news that their “most serene city” (as Venice is known), would not be added to the UN agency’s endangered list. Their joy comes despite the fact that not being listed means the city will not have access to additional funds and technical assistance.
Venice’s Mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, announced on X, “Great Victory at UNESCO … Venice is not at risk,” while the culture ministry under Gennaro Sangiuliano, accused UNESCO’s concerns about the city as “purely political”.
Nonetheless, Brugnaro has himself flagged up the problem of anti-social behaviour by visitors to Venice in no uncertain terms, calling two tourists who rode motorised surfboards through the iconic Grand Canal “arrogant imbeciles.”
Overtourism and flooding
Authorities in Venice have taken action to discourage daytrippers from visiting the city during the busiest periods. It recently announced a trial of a five-euro “entry fee” for anyone visiting the city and its surrounding islands without an overnight stay. Daytrippers are seen as taking a toll on the city’s infrastructure without staying long enough to contribute much to its hospitality sector.
As well as highlighting the five euro fee to manage “tourist influxes”, Venice authorities pointed out in submissions to the Committee other actions taken, such as the Mose floodgate system and the barriers at St. Mark’s Basilica, to protect the city from high water. These were assessed as positive developments by UNESCO.
In total contrast to Italy’s reaction, Ukraine’s Culture Minister, Anastasia Bondar, celebrated UNESCO’s decision to add Kyiv and L’viv to the list of historic sites in danger. Noting that Ukraine has been protecting the sites for “thousands of years” she welcomed the support of “the whole world community.”