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Those who were lucky enough to make it to the Venice Film Festival last year found they had the city all to themselves. Venice’s iconic St. Mark’s Square, usually cheek-to-jowl with tourists and assorted gawkers, was empty. You could snap a selfie without a photobomber in the background. You could get a table at any restaurant, no reservation required.
Travel restrictions, imposed after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Italy, meant the flood of tourists that usually over- whelm Venice had slowed to a trickle. Borders were still closed to most international travel. The huge cruise ships that regularly delivered load upon load of visitors to St. Mark’s and the narrow streets along its adjacent canals were dry-docked. It was heaven.
And it likely was a one-off. Earlier this year, as Italy, encouraged by low COVID infection numbers, began to reopen, the tourists are slowly returning to the “floating city.” But at least the cruise ships aren’t coming back.
On July 13, the Italian government banned all cruise ships from sailing through the city center, bowing to pressure from Venice residents and U.N. body UNESCO, which had threatened to place Venice on the endangered World Heritage List if it didn’t keep the cruises out.
The ban, which took effect Aug. 1, applies to all ships weighing more than 25,000 tons, more than 590-feet long, or more than 115- feet high. Cruiseliners typically weigh four times the new limit and can reach more than 200,000 tons.
The government said the law will protect the “environmental, artistic and cultural heritage of Venice” and was “an important step for the safeguarding of the Venetian lagoon.”
“For us it’s a big victory,” Tommaso Cacciari, a member of the No Grandi Navi (No Big Ships) campaign group, told Reuters. “Many compared us to David against Goliath.”
But Venice festivalgoers hoping for a return to the empty streets of 2020 might be disappointed. Before the pandemic, cruise ships accounted for about 1.5 million tourists to Venice annually, just a fraction of the 25 million to 30 million people the city “welcomed” in a normal year. And the ships won’t be banned entirely, just rerouted through the Venice lagoon to dock on the mainland. Passengers can then travel by shuttle to St. Mark’s. So if you’re planning a post-screening dinner, better make that reservation now.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Sept. 1 daily issue at the Venice International Film Festival.
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