Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Venice Syndrome, sad, sad, sad.

We went to the Bytowne Cinema today on Rideau Street, the last movie house in the centre of Ottawa.

We saw The Venice Syndrome, released in mid-July, it is a 90 minute documentary on Venice. The City is dying and its not the water rising that is killing the city but the 20 million tourists who visit each year. There are only 50,000 inhabitants left in Venice today, it was a City of 200,000 just 12 years ago.

The port of Venice can accommodate cruise ships a 1000 feet long disgorging hundreds of tourists each day more than the Port of New York City. Not to mention the cavalcade of day trippers who come by train or air. The Post Office has closed and the building was sold to Benetton to make a shopping mall. The hospital was moved to the mainland in Mestre. Other services are being shifted to the mainland.

I was aware that the city known as La Serinissima was changing, I noticed how few locals were left and how grocery stores and other shops had vanished. All replaced by cheap restaurants catering to tourists on a budget with their micro-wave food and day old sandwiches and pizzas. On the other hand you also have to wealthy tourists who stay around San Marco in their $500 dollar a day suites and eat burgers at $45 dollars.

The movie shows you the throngs of tourists and interviews several Venetians about their city and the changes, the characters are all old time Venetians whose family have lived for generation in the city.
A Countess, an old gondolier, a real estate agent, a mover, a tourist guide, they all talk about their lives and how the rising cost of renting an apartment is pushing them out. Some own their condo but for those who don't the only solution is to move to the mainland. The blame according to them rest with the City Council who prefers the money of the big corporation to the interests of the Citizens.

Most of the money spent by tourists in Venice on any given day goes to big corporations not City Coffers. The real estate market is on fire despite buildings crumbling due to poor maintenance or shoddy workmanship. Still one square meter sell for 12,000 Euros. so bit by bit every apartment in town or building is being bought out by foreigners who come for a few days a year. It is true that Venice has always been a city of trade and business, this is what made it a powerful city in the days of the Venetian Republic but those days are long gone and now globalization is killing the city. It is estimated that by 2030 no Venetian will be left living in the city. All that remains are hotels, restaurants, bars and sights.

I am only happy to say that I knew the city and visited when it was still a charming city and not an amusement park. I feel great sadness at what is happening and at the lost of a beautiful and lovely city.


  1. Venice is one of the (many) places in the world I have no desire to visit in person as I suspect the reality of the place can not match what I have imagined it to be from history eduction. Paris, Greece, Rome: the list grows all the time. I guess it gets down to there is no point in traveling anymore when all there is is chain corporations and Starbucks.

  2. A city without inhabitants is a dead city, and I never used to feel that about Venice, for all its melancholy. A far-sighted city council regenerating local life is what's needed (of course affordable apartments won't be owned by Venetians born and bred, but at least there will BE a local life). I was so impressed by what happened in Stavanger: the old town of white painted wooden houses was about to be swept away by a real estate developed in 1975, the council stepped in and made sure the historic core would be lived in by locals. While much visited by tourists, it doesn't have a tacky shop or even a cafe in sight.

    But then Stavanger isn't Venice. And, Ur-Spo, don't be discouraged - if you travel as an individual you will always find pockets of the real Venice more or less to yourself. And it is the most fantastical city in the world; no-one should die without having seen it. Impossible to imagine from books: more amazing, not less, than what you might dream.

  3. David indeed a Venice City Council with a far-sighted view of the future for Venitians is required. However so far this has not happened. The Real Estate market is free to operate and speculate and the City Council has not intervene, so prices have skyrocketed. Much of the fees paid by tourists who visit the city go directly to multi-national corp. the city does not benefit. Obviously something is very wrong and because of the huge profits generated daily, greed might be a stronger force.

  4. In spite of my placing my own municipality and Venice in the same thought, I am not -- repeat, not -- comparing them. Your use of the term 'Amusement Park', however, is one I've applied many times here, as our university has grown and grown and grown. Obscene luxury apartment complexes for students growing like a fungus, all the product of lots and lots of money. Bygone the small college town 'thing'. I never imagined Venice to be susceptible, but what do I know. Very sad.

  5. Of course we're facing our own challenge in London as ludicrously rising house prices diversity out of the picture and our city becomes a playground for the rich. Was struck by Rupert Everett - whose latest volume of autobiography is an amazing mix of celeb trash with melancholy and death - opening an inner London playground and warning that these kind of facilities, which keep our city still vibrant, are all vanishing and closing down, being bought up by large corporations.

    1. Is this all part of some sort of globalization of cities, same shops, same hotels, same bars and restaurants, sameness all around. Ottawa has also fallen into this trap, many restaurants are now chain-owned by large corp. same for pubs and bars. It would appear that our politicians prefer it that way.