Are Cruise Ships Ruining Venice Or Just Memories From My Youth?

Last week  I was reading the New York Times on line when I ran across an interesting article "Venice Tourist Ships Rattle Windows and Nerves" by Elisabetta Povoledo. 

The article raises the question of the environmental impact of massive cruise ships sailing into the passenger terminal at the end of the Giudecca Canal, to unload over one and one-half million cruise Venice - Cruise Shipspassengers into Venice a year. 

I have warm memories of the first, and only, time that I visited Venice.  It was the summer of 1977, after my freshman year at college.  I originally traveled to Europe with my freshman roommate at Duke and two buddies from prep school.  After two weeks in Belgium and Holland, where we spent more time in the beer halls than in museums, we got on each other's nerves.  We strapped on our backpacks and went our separate ways. 

I had bought a $200 "Eurail pass" that let me hop on trains all over over Europe.  It even covered a couple of cruises (where we slept on the open decks) on old tubs from Brindisi, Italy to the island of Corfu and then on to Greece and back. 

Before I headed south, I spent a week in Venice by myself. 

I loved it. 

For $8 a night, I rented a single room in an Italian's family upstairs apartment.  I spent my  time visiting St. Mark's Cathedral, walking around the narrow winding streets, and eating incredible Italian ice cream.  I stopped at all of the little bridges over the canals which criss-crossed the city and leaned over the rails to watch couples and families ride on gondolas navigating below me.   

Venice - Cruise Ships PollutionI took a few photos (above and right) which have been in an old photo album for the last three decades.

I have lasting images and feelings from my experiences in Venice.   I felt at ease in this incredibly tranquil city, especially in the evenings when I would sit in the plazas drinking wine or espresso and wonder what my future would bring.          

Now 34 years later, I am looking at the photo (below) in the New York Times' article of a massive cruise ship looming over Venice.  What  a stark contrast to my fond memories of the quiet and quaint city with the gondola drivers pushing their poles along the little canals.  

Are those monster cruise ships really sailing by the Riva dei Sette Martiri, a quay near St. Mark’s Square? 

There seems something disrespectful about arriving in Venice aboard a cruise ship taller and wider than anything that could have been imagined when the city was built 500 years ago. 

What happened to the tranquility of the beautiful, delicately scaled maze of canals and plazas where the poets, artists and travelers inter-mingled in the uniqueness of this old city?  Are the mega cruise ships and their one and one-half million cruise tourists ruining the charm of Venice?  Or has the world forever changed, leaving only the memories from my youth?      

 

Venice - Cruise Ships

 

Photos top and middle:  Jim Walker

Photo bottom:  Manuel Silvestri / Reuters
 

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Comments (5) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Linda Coffman - May 24, 2011 7:41 PM

Are monster cruise ships docking off of the Riva dei Sette Martiri?

No, Jim. They aren't and never have. I've sailed in and out of Venice numerous times in the past 15 years, the most recent time being just a few weeks ago. The cruise pier is NOT in the center of Venice.

By the way, my first visit to Venice was 50 years ago and not much has changed since then.

Jim Walker - May 24, 2011 7:58 PM

Hi Linda:

Great to hear from you.

You first went to Venice "50 years ago and not much has changed?"

Sorry, I don't believe you. There is no way that you are over 35 years old!

Regards

Jim

Donny K - September 8, 2011 7:47 AM

My wife and I visited Venice almost every year for 50 years until 3 years ago. That a frequent visitor claimed nothing has changed, borders on nonsense, for everything's changed. Venetians had always been elitist but polite. Now they're numb. At least half of our Venetian friends have sold their residences and moved away. There are days, even in late October, when 5 or 6,000 people are dumped on that spit of water-logged land. The islands of Murano and Burano have also been affected. The quality of food has been as well, because the vast majority of the visitor mobs trailing behind the cruise placards on a stick aren't discerning. St. Mark's pigeons grow larger as our memories shrink. We always felt that everything would change, but we'd always have Venice, Go know!

Michael Day - December 29, 2011 11:50 PM

I suspect that the very largest cruise ships are not able to dock at the Riva dei Sette Martiri, but I have seen smaller ships there, including the Royal Caribbean ship MS Legend of the Seas (here in September 2009):

http://www.flickr.com/photos/13706945@N00/6597902533/

Aoife - February 17, 2012 9:53 AM

Hi Jim, could you give me permission to use the 3rd photo by Manuel Silvestri at the bottom of this page for an article I want to circulate? I will of course quote the author.

Aoife

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