Venice ‘beginning to resemble Swiss cheese’

Venice’s historic buildings and canals are riven with so many cracks and holes that the city is beginning to resemble a giant piece of Swiss cheese, gondoliers have said.

Experts say the city’s architectural fabric is being damaged by ‘presence of enormous cruise liners in the lagoon’ Photo: ALAMY

Canal banks are crumbling because of a lack of maintenance and cracks are appearing in centuries-old palaces along the Grand Canal, the boat operators claim.

“You only have to take a tour of the canals by boat to realise straightaway that the historic centre is like a lump of Gruyere,” said Aldo Reato, the head of the gondoliers’ association.

He said the city was suffering because of cuts in the funding that it used to receive from the central government in Rome under a special grant.

His warning came after a section of canal bank close to Piazzale Roma, one of the Italian city’s main squares, recently collapsed.

Heritage campaigners blamed the incident on the building of a new luxury hotel nearby.

Alessandro Maggioni, the city councillor in charge of public works, said Venice needed 60 million euros (£38 million) just to carry out routine maintenance and repair work.

“Everyone can see the problems that Venice has but we are impotent because we need money that the city simply does not have,” he said.

The erosion of Venice’s canal banks has been blamed in part on the increasing number of giant cruise ships which visit the World Heritage site.

An international group of heritage experts, authors and academics this week wrote an open letter to Mario Monti, the prime minister, calling for ships of more than 40,000 tons to be banned from entering St Mark’s Basin and the Guidecca Canal, a passage of water which runs between Venice proper and the island of Giudecca.

They said the city’s unique architectural fabric was being seriously damaged by “the increasing, invasive and uncontrolled presence of enormous cruise liners in the lagoon.

“Their presence arouses fears of serious environmental damage and jeopardizes the conservation of Venice’s artistic heritage.”

The group, from eight countries including Britain, included academics from the universities of Cambridge, Princeton, Columbia and Bologna, as well as Donna Leon, a best-selling American author of crime thrillers who has lived in Venice for more than 25 years.

Sir Partha Dasgupta, a professor of economics at Cambridge University and a signatory of the appeal, told The Daily Telegraph: “Venice is a city of extraordinary historical and contemporary importance and it has a very fragile ecosystem.

“There is strong scientific evidence that it is being damaged by these big ships and the huge numbers of tourists that they bring. Venetians have to have some capability of controlling the numbers of visitors, as is done in the Galapagos Islands, for instance.”

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