Courtesy of No Grandi Navi
Flying into Venice for a long-awaited vacation, the biggest thing we could see from the air was not the Piazza San Marco, or the Doge’s Palace, or the Basilica—the biggest thing in Venice was a cruise ship docked in the passenger port. In town an hour later, we saw the posters, which said (in Italian, of course), “Defend the City—Take Back the Lagoon—Days of International Struggle Against the Big Ships—June 7-8-9.” We had arrived just in time.
The problem was easy to see: the day of the big protest, MSC Divina was in port—it’s one of the ten biggest cruise ships in the world. It looks like a floating apartment building. It has eighteen decks, which makes it much taller than anything in Venice, where the tallest buildings are four or five stories high. It’s more than 1,000 feet long. Piazza San Marco, the largest public space in Venice, is less than 600 feet long. This ship carries 4,000 passengers and a crew of 1,300. When a ship like this sails through the canals of Venice on its way to Dubrovnik and the Greek Islands, it is, in the words of the protest organization No Grandi Navi, “an affront, an insult to the city and its way of life.”
The insults are coming more often. Cruise-ship tourism in Venice has increased fourfold in the last fifteen years, and the city is now the cruise capital of Europe. The organizing committee for the protest declared, “These mega cruise ships are a visible expression of a system of political and commercial wrongdoing that has been corrupting life, damaging the economy, the environment and, ultimately, the people of this region.” They called for “sustainable alternatives in business, industrial and economic planning, based on more participatory procedures, and a new season of democracy in defense of the common good.”
The committee also announced a contest for a new logo—and stated that “the prize for the winner will NOT be a cruise.”
“Everyone in Venice hates the cruise ships,” a young woman who worked for our hotel told us. But not quite everyone: the Cruise Venice Committee held a gala affair in October 2012, according to Barbie Nadeau of The Daily Beast, where 1,800 people gathered at the passenger terminal to celebrate the success of the city in attracting the big ships. According to the committee, more than 650 cruise ships now dock in Venice annually—two almost every day of the year—and they bring passengers who spend almost $200 million annually. Obviously, the people who run the restaurants and own the stores that sell the cheap carnival masks and little plastic gondolas have something to celebrate.