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  • Louise Wagon

Venice escapes the "endangered" list (again)

Inscribed on the World Heritage List since 1987, Venice's status had been called into question by UNESCO, which recommended that the city be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. However, the World Heritage Committee, meeting in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) on September 14, decided to reject UNESCO's recommendations.


Venise échappe à la liste du patrimoine mondial en danger
Venise, l'île de Burano. © Gaëlle Brody

By 2021, Venice had already been threatened with inclusion on the endangered heritage list, but Italy narrowly avoided this by banning large cruise ships from entering the Giudecca Canal and the Basin and Canal of San Marco.


However, in a report published on July 31, UNESCO experts concluded that the measures taken to date were not sufficient, and that significant progress was needed to protect Venice. At the heart of the problem are the management of mass tourism, urban development without impact studies, motorboats and environmental problems in the lagoon.


However, the World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 member states, considered that Venice was making sufficient efforts. Japan, in particular, highlighted Italy's efforts, pointing to the law blocking the entry of large ships into the city.Mexico, for its part, highlighted the problem of the depopulation of the City of the Doges, which now has just 50,000 inhabitants, compared with 150,000 in 1951. The access fee, which has just been passed by the City Council and will be tested from spring 2024, was also seen by the Committee as an effort to try to save the city and limit the flow of day-trippers, who will be subject to a 5 euro tax to enter the lagoon city during the 30 busiest days of the year.


The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, who was present in Riyadh, welcomed the decision in the Italian daily Repubblica, calling it "recognition of the efforts we are making to safeguard Venice". He also denounced the UNESCO experts' proposal as "very political and not very technical". Italy's Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano, concurred, claiming that the proposal was "an undue maneuver, purely political and not anchored in objective data" and that in recent months "the municipality has taken courageous steps to manage tourism and guarantee the protection of the city's extraordinary cultural heritage".


But this diplomatic victory is not unanimous. Several associations and city councillors have criticized the World Heritage Committee's vote, fearing that it is based solely on the introduction of the entrance fee. Marco Gasparinetti, a city councillor and lawyer, declared that "the city is, on the contrary, in disarray" and that "the measure on the access contribution, taken at the time of Riyadh, was a fig leaf to try and show that we were doing something". For Monica Sambo, secretary of the Democratic Party, the fee is nothing more than "a well-orchestrated communication operation for those who [...] only see Venice from above".


Venice is not out of the woods, however. UNESCO has announced its intention to send a delegation and present a new report on the city's problems by February 2024. The aim is to re-examine the question of inclusion on the list of World Heritage in Danger the following summer.


What is this list to which Venice is exposed?

The "List of World Heritage Sites in Danger" is a register maintained by UNESCO that identifies World Heritage sites in need of urgent conservation action. It aims both to raise international awareness of threats to cultural heritage and to provide financial and technical assistance to local governments. The inclusion or removal of a site from this list depends on an assessment of its condition and the effectiveness of conservation measures.


At the time of the decision, 55 sites were on the list, including four in Europe: the historic center of Vienna (Austria), the mining landscape of Rosia Montană (Romania), the medieval monuments in Kosovo (Serbia) and the historic center of Odessa (Ukraine).


These four sites have now been joined by two other Ukrainian cultural heritage sites: St. Sophia's Cathedral and all the associated monastic buildings in Kiev, and the historic center of Lviv. These two sites were inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger on September 15 by the World Heritage Committee, due to the threat of destruction posed by the Russian offensive.


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