Venice Faces “Irreversible” Damage: A Conundrum of Tourism, Climate Change, and Heritage

The UN’s cultural agency, UNESCO, has stated that the iconic Italian city of Venice should be added to a list of world heritage sites in danger. This picturesque city is threatened by “irreversible” damage from overwhelming tourism, overdevelopment, and rising sea levels due to climate change.

UNESCO’s intention behind this move is to promote better preservation for the future. But the former mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, criticized the agency as “one of the most expensive and useless bodies on the face of the earth,” accusing it of passing “judgment without knowledge.”

  • Overwhelming Tourism: With around 28 million tourists visiting Venice every year, the city has become crowded, leading to more urban expansion projects, which in turn damage the city.
  • Climate Change Impact: A warming planet causing sea levels to rise has left Venice highly vulnerable to flooding.
  • Development Threat: High-rise buildings are believed by UNESCO to have a “significant negative visual impact” on the city and should be built far from the city centre.

The UNESCO report blames the Italian authorities for a “lack of strategic vision” and accuses them of failing to protect the city.

Emergency Measures and Unfulfilled Promises

Two years ago, Venice was on the verge of being included in the danger list. It was averted at the last minute due to some emergency measures by the Italian government, such as banning large ships like cruise ships in the San Marco Canal and promising an ambitious conservation plan.

Although the ban on large ships is being enforced, UNESCO says it should extend to other polluting boats. However, the plan to save Venice was never implemented, remaining merely a mirage.

Local Perspective: A City Without a Soul

Among the hordes of visitors and tourists, native Venetians like Claudio, a watercolor seller, lament the city’s transformation. “Those who come now don’t even know what a museum is. It’s not cultural tourism,” he said. “Please don’t come anymore!”

Some critics charge that Venice is now a city without a soul, as environmental damage to its lagoon and the dwindling number of residents, now about 50,000, continue to plague the city.

Managing the Masterpiece

UNESCO put Venice on its heritage list in 1987 as an “extraordinary architectural masterpiece.” Yet, critics argue that measures to check tourism are ineffective and late, and progress on more sustainable tourism management has been insufficient.

A long-discussed plan to introduce a paid booking scheme for day-trippers has been repeatedly postponed, now until 2024, over concerns about tourist revenue and freedom of movement.

Tourists’ Take on the Situation

Despite the looming threat, tourists seem oblivious to the possible downgrade. New York tourist Ashley Park expressed that the crowds weren’t ruining her vacation. City workers are struggling to manage misbehaving tourists, but as US tourist Mike McWilliams justified, “It’s pretty beautiful — it’s a draw!”


Venice’s situation is a complex conundrum involving heritage preservation, environmental sustainability, and modern-day tourism. While it’s considered an undisputed gem and “the city of love,” the challenges are immense and multifaceted.

The action or inaction by both local authorities and international bodies like UNESCO will define the future of this historic city. The tale of Venice is a cautionary one for other cities and sites that are at the crossroads of heritage and modernity.