At the beginning of this week, Unesco experts recommended Venice should be added to the list of World Heritage sites in danger, as interventions from Italian authorities have not done enough to protect the city.
In a new report, the experts highlight that the northeast Italian city is suffering due to “mass tourism, development projects and climate change”. They highlight that this continued deterioration threatens to cause “irreversible” damage to the fragile city. According to the document, some of these issues have already worsened the conditions of the site, including not only the integrity of the structures but also its cultural and social identity.
One core issue in the management of the site is overtourism. The experts state that the “efficiency” of the progress made towards managing more sustainable tourism and, specifically, reducing the number of tourists visiting the city “seems to be low or unknown”.
In 2019, the mayor of Venice also urged Unesco to put the city on the list, while criticising the transport minister for overlooking a plan to divert large cruise ships from the Guidecca canal (this was eventually passed, though some cruise ships have reverted to using smaller boats to ferry passengers into the city).
In the years since that call, other measures have been taken to reduce impacts on the city. Cruise ships have been banned from entering other areas of the waterways, the MOSE seawalls have been employed to prevent the streets from flooding with seawater and unruly tourists have been issued with fines. Methods like tourist taxes and wider surveillance have also been considered, but their implementation has been delayed.
Unesco also threatened to list the city on the danger list in 2021. According to Reuters, a spokesperson for the Venice municipality stated that the city officials, “will carefully read the proposed decision published.. by the Centre for UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee and will discuss it with the government”.
The State Party is expected to submit an updated report on the state of conservation and the implementation of the recommendations by February 1 next year.
What is the List of World Heritage in Danger?
The List of World Heritage in Danger is determined by experts from the Unesco World Heritage Centre. They gather at least once a year in June or July to discuss the condition, preservation and management of the sites, and produce recommendations for a later committee meeting (which will see the list finalised).
A site will be listed if it, or its inherent characteristics, are threatened by a serious and specific danger. The aim of listing a site is to prioritise assistance to its preservation and alert international authorities.
What sites are on the List of World Heritage in Danger?
In total, there are 55 sites that the World Heritage Committee has decided to include on the list. Some of those include:
- Landmarks of the Ancient Kingdom of Saba, Marib in Yemen, listed in 2023
- The Historic Centre of Odesa, Ukraine, listed in 2023
- Rachid Karami International Fair-Tripoli, Lebanon, listed in 2023
- Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California, listed in 2019
- Historic Centre of Vienna in Austria, listed in 2010
- Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo, listed in 2012
- Everglades National Park in the US, listed in 2010
- Rainforests of the Atsinanana, listed in 2010
- Timbuktu, Mali, listed in 2012
What does the List of World Heritage in Danger mean for travellers?
Cultural and natural sites on the list are included for different reasons, but, as above, all face a serious and specific danger – potentially due to climate change, building developments, deforestation, military conflicts and wars, poaching and overtourism, among many other issues.
Due to the wide-ranging nature of the threats, there is not one rule for every destination included on the list. The listing of a potential destination should signal travellers to properly research the site they’d like to visit and follow guidance from relevant authorities.