Venice might soon be added to Unesco’s list of endangered sites

Climate change, overdevelopment and staggering numbers of tourists are all harming the floating city

Liv Kelly
Written by
Liv Kelly
Contributing Writer
Venetian canals
Photograph: Shutterstock

Ah, Venice. A place of stunning architecture and dreamy canals, northern Italy’s floating city has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1987. The city attracts millions of visitors a year – but mass tourism is a big part of the reason Venice and its lagoon could soon be added to Unesco’s danger list. 

Irreparable damage caused by excessive tourism, such as littering and pollution of canals, is one of the major factors in Unesco’s recommendation. Venice hosts an average of 2.1 million tourists each year, and the never-ending crowds have led to a decline in permanent residents. Last year, the population of Venice’s historic centre dropped to 50,000 for the first time.

Overdevelopment is another factor, with Unesco claiming that high-rise developments are ruining the city’s iconic Venetian gothic appearance. 

Rising sea levels due to climate change also pose a huge danger to Venice. The city of water is incredibly prone to flooding, with some estimating that the city could be at risk of sinking as soon as 2100. 

Venice was previously considered for endangered status two years ago, but this was curbed by an emergency effort by the Italian government to implement a ban on large ships entering Venetian waters.

Unesco officials have requested timetables for the implementation of conservation measures, and issued letters of warning multiple times for more action – but they still don’t feel enough is being done. While listing the city as an endangered site might lead to action being taken to protect the city, the discussion was not welcomed by Italian authorities. 

Former Mayor of Venice Massimo Cacciari said to the BBC: ‘[Unesco] don’t give us any funding to make changes, all they do is criticise… As if Venice needed Unesco to be a world heritage site! We need more action and fewer words.’

The recommendation will be put to Unesco’s world heritage committee for a final decision, which will likely be announced in September.

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