A host of famous names including Mick Jagger and Tilda Swinton have supported an appeal urging the Italian government to introduce a special law to safeguard Venice.
Tourists have started to return to the city since Italy eased coronavirus travel restrictions in mid-May. But residents and those with close links to the city do not want it to return to its pre-pandemic plight when it was overwhelmed by daytrippers and giant cruise ships that wreaked havoc on its fragile lagoon.
An open letter produced by the Venetian Heritage Foundation and signed by 21 high-profile personalities from the world of art and culture has been sent to the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, and the prime minister, Mario Draghi, as well as regional and local leaders, calling for urgent action.
“This isn’t a collection of signatures just to name-drop, it’s a collection of signatures of people who often come to Venice and who we know directly,” said Toto Bergamo Rossi, the president of the Venetian Heritage Foundation.
The appeal was triggered after it was learned that the first post-lockdown cruise ship, MSC Orchestra, would sail past St Mark’s Square on Saturday, despite an announcement by the government in late March banning cruise ships from the historic centre.
Bergamo Rossi said the news of the cruise ship’s return brought back chilling memories of 2 June 2019 when a 13-deck vessel operated by the same company crashed into a wharf and tourist boat along the busy Giudecca canal, injuring four people. “When we heard about this we couldn’t believe it, and so thought enough is enough,” Bergamo Rossi said.
The letter, drafted with the help of experts, lists 10 points deemed essential for Venice’s survival that ought to be enshrined in law. They include completing works on the long-delayed flood barrier project, Mose. The 78 mobile barriers underwent a number of successful trials last year. Other points include banning cruise ships from the lagoon and protecting its ecosystem; limiting tourist numbers and managing the flow better; introducing rules governing short-term holiday home rentals; and preserving the city’s decorum.
Other signatories to the letter include the film directors Francis Ford Coppola and James Ivory; the artist Anish Kapoor; Gary Tinterow, the director of The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and Karole Vail, the director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.
Bergamo Rossi, who was born in Venice, said previous pledgesto come up with measures to protect and enhance the city had led to nothing. “It’s always the same thing, like a game of ping-pong. If we look back to 2019, Venice was impossible – you couldn’t walk in the city any more due to the crowds, there were even fewer inhabitants and good quality shops, and no controls over B&Bs. We can’t go back to this.”
Venice, which hosted an estimated 28 million visitors as year before the pandemic, has started to get busy again over the past couple of weeks.
“Toto has done a great thing with putting together this letter and I’m very happy that lots of VIPs are onboard, especially as ordinary citizens listen to people like Mick Jagger,” said Matteo Secchi, the leader of Venessia.com, an activist group that for years has battled to preserve Venice’s heritage. “But – and this is a small but – I hope they won’t just stop at a letter. If they really love Venice, we ask that they take on a bit more commitment towards protecting it.”
Secchi criticised press coverage of the announcement of the ban on cruise ships, which were supposed to have been redirected to the industrial port of Marghera. “It was only an announcement, nothing concrete. For years they’ve been saying this but as yet nobody has taken action and made it law.”