Last month the Philadelphia Museum of Art hosted a lecture by Salvatore Settis where he detailed the findings of his most recent book, If Venice Dies. In the book, the art historian argues that the current policies surrounding Venice are killing this important historic city and that action is needed.
Many of today’s most dreamed of tourist destinations are facing an important turning point. Machu Picchu now has a daily limit in the number of visitors who can access the 15th-century Peruvian site. Similarly, Mount Everest is requiring climbers to return with a certain quota of garbage as the mountain isn’t being looked after. The difference between those sites and the historic city of Venice, Italy is that the first two examples are relatively remote and not easily accessible. There’s some extra effort involved. Venice, however, is a group of more than 100 islands that are just off the eastern coast of the country in the Adriatic Sea. There are no significant barriers to protect it.
Professor Settis’ lecture acted as a companion to his book with visuals to help the arguments sink in. As attempts are made to reshape Venice into a “modern” city, its population are part of a mass exodus. There are, after all, few jobs that aren’t in the tourism sector. For Settis, modernity is closely linked with the heights of buildings. He constantly throws out how tall — or rather, how short — certain historic buildings are when compared to today’s skyscrapers.
So instead, the city puts all their eggs in the Tourism basket and hopes for the best. They turn a blind-eye to what that means. The cruise ships the size of modern skyscrapers sailing through corridors much too small for them (both in width and in depth). The ships are causing unseen damage to the historic city by way of pollution. The wake from the ships and so on. Consumerism and capitalism are prioritized over the unique and special city that Venice is.
While Professor Settis provides a convincing argument, he offers no solutions. That, after all, is not his job nor his intent. Instead readers will want to act — to save not only Venice but the world. The book will appeal to anyone interested in art, travel or simply an awareness of the world around you. Salvatore Settis’ If Venice Dies is a thoroughly fascinating read.
If Venice Dies
by Salvatore Settis
New Vessel Press
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