‘Mosque’ sparks trouble at Venice Biennale

Iceland sparked controversy on the opening day of the Biennale art fair in the Italian city of Venice by turning a disused church into a mosque.

'Mosque' sparks trouble at Venice Biennale
Entitled "La Moschea", the installation was created in the Santa-Maria della Misericordia, a former Catholic church. Photo: Didier Descouens

Entitled "La Moschea", the installation was created in the Santa-Maria della Misericordia, a former Catholic church that was rented to Iceland's national pavilion by its private owner.

Heralding the initiative as promoting religious tolerance, several Muslims came to pray at the building.

Leaving their shoes at the door, the worshippers faced Mecca and knelt to pray whilst around them visitors toured the exhibition.

The installation, by Swiss artist Christoph Buechel, aims to draw attention to the absence of a mosque in the historic centre of Venice – a city with historic trading links to the Muslim world.

But city authorities expressed reservations, citing, among other things, the risk of the building being attacked by anti-Muslim elements – or, at the other side of the spectrum – Islamist radicals.

The president of Veneto region, Luca Zaia, called the installation a "provocation".

"The real issue", he said, was "not freedom of religion but respecting the rules" of an international art exhibition.

The 56th Venice Biennale runs through November 22nd.

The jury on Saturday awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation to Armenia for a pavilion about the Armenian diaspora.

The Golden Lion for Best Artist went to Adrian Piper of the United States pour "The Probable Trust Registry: The Rules of the Game #1-3".


Italy to pay €57m compensation over Venice cruise ship ban

The Italian government announced on Friday it would pay 57.5 million euros in compensation to cruise companies affected by the decision to ban large ships from Venice's fragile lagoon.

A cruise ship in St Mark's Basin, Venice.
The decision to limit cruise ship access to the Venice lagoon has come at a cost. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The new rules, which took effect in August, followed years of warnings that the giant floating hotels risked causing irreparable damage to the lagoon city, a UNESCO world heritage site.

READ ALSO: Venice bans large cruise ships from centre after Unesco threat of ‘endangered’ status

Some 30 million euros has been allocated for 2021 for shipping companies who incurred costs in “rescheduling routes and refunding passengers who cancelled trips”, the infrastructure ministry said in a statement.

A further 27.5 million euros – five million this year and the rest in 2022 – was allocated for the terminal operator and related companies, it said.

The decision to ban large cruise ships from the centre of Venice in July came just days before a meeting of the UN’s cultural organisation Unesco, which had proposed adding Venice to a list of endangered heritage sites over inaction on cruise ships.

READ ALSO: Is Venice really banning cruise ships from its lagoon?

Under the government’s plan, cruise ships will not be banned from Venice altogether but the biggest vessels will no longer be able to pass through St Mark’s Basin, St Mark’s Canal or the Giudecca Canal. Instead, they’ll be diverted to the industrial port at Marghera.

But critics of the plan point out that Marghera – which is on the mainland, as opposed to the passenger terminal located in the islands – is still within the Venice lagoon.

Some aspects of the plan remain unclear, as infrastructure at Marghera is still being built. Meanwhile, smaller cruise liners are still allowed through St Mark’s and the Giudecca canals.

Cruise ships provide a huge economic boost to Venice, but activists and residents say the ships contribute to problems caused by ‘overtourism’ and cause large waves that undermine the city’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.