Cruising Towards Decline

Venice is loved for its state of historic perfection. The city remains largely unchanged due to its floating urban structure, which is not as easily transformed as that of other cities. Skyscrapers just wouldn’t hold up on water. And yet, our modern age seems to have found a substitute. Floating Venice has gained its own form of skyscraper: the cruise ship.

Cruise Ship in Venice (Image: World Monument Fund)

These enormous ships glide with monstrosity across the Grand Canal, almost double the size of the Doge’s palace. Their immense scale is completely disproportionate to the surrounding buildings and people, which, by comparison, are reduced to a sort of ‘theme park’. Even the palace, supposed to represent the city’s pride and power, becomes trivialised. Sadly, the concept of a ‘theme park’ is not all too distant from the purpose of the cruise ships, which quite literally serve as vehicles for mass tourism, shipping a large number of visitors from sight to sight. The city becomes a product of entertainment for the insatiable consumer.

In addition to its absurd appearance, the cruise liner imposes direct threats on the city’s urban composition. Environmental costs are evident; the ships contribute considerably to air and sea pollution, as well as putting a strain on old, fragile buildings. In an article written in response to Salvatore Settis’ book If Venice Dies, Michael Webb asserts: ‘In a recent resolution, UNESCO warned that Venice would be placed on its list of endangered sites if the city did not ban cruise ships by February 2017. Predictably, the Italian government pressured the organisation to withdraw or postpone its decision. It had earlier […] passed a measure banning cruise ships from skirting sensitive sites, but made an exception for Venice, the most fragile of them all’.[i] Only very recently, a cruise ship in Venice’s waters collided with a small tourist boat.