They used the slogan 'Mi no vado via', translating as 'I'm not leaving' in the local dialect, to show their discontent at the impact of high tourist numbers on locals' lives.
Organizers estimate that around 2,000 residents took part in the protest, including representatives from 45 of the various groups which have sprung up in recent years with the aim of protecting Venice's heritage.
Photo: Venezia Autentica
"The general message was that, despite the fact that Venice is being sold away, Venetians are not going anywhere and demand a city with housing, services, and opportunities for the residents," Valeria Duflot told The Local. Together with Sebastian Fagarazzi, Duflot co-founded Venezia Autentica, an organization which offers advice to tourists on how to visit the city without causing harm.
"We saw business owners such as artisans [at the protest], families with young children, young couples trying to keep on living in Venice, people in their 60s who witnessed the evolution of Venice, and of course local campaigners," Duflot explained. "Venice is being turned into a theme park, and locals and visitors alike resent this fact."
"In our opinion what needs to change, and fast, are the objectives of the local leadership which seem to be aiming only at exploiting Venice rather than building a sustainable, livable city for the Venetians and visitors to enjoy. Policies and countermeasures aiming at helping Venetians to find a house, keep their job, access services in their city are essential but sadly not a given in Venice," she added.
Protesters at the front of the march carried a banner reading 'My future is Venice' in both Italian and English, while others carried banners representing other issues from the rising rents to the cruise ship industry.
Venetians have used peaceful protests to make their fears of a 'Venexodus' known before; the city's population is in decline as tourism pushes up rent and means hotels and Airbnb apartments have taken over housing and public buildings. The number of permanent residents is approaching a low of 50,000, half the figure of 40 years ago and less than the number of tourists who flock to the city each day.
The marchers on Sunday gathered at the Venetian Arsenal before making their way through some of the most popular tourist spots in the city, crossing its historic bridges and winding through piazzas.
The route was symbolic, tracing the path trodden by many of the day trippers and cruise ship tourists who descend on the city, leaving the centre crowded and the outskirts neglected.
In addition to the pollution caused by the enormous cruise ships that dock in the lagoon, the limited itineraries of those who only spend a few hours in Venice means that the tourism boom has only lined the pockets of a select few. Day-trippers spend their money in the same few souvenir shops, rarely taking the time to find the specialist artisanal shops which have long played a vital role in the city's culture and economy.
To tackle overcrowding, the city earlier this year introduced a set of measures ranging from promotion of the lesser-explored corners of the city to the installation of people-counters at the most popular sights. And last month, the mayor's office gave the go-ahead to a ban on new tourist accommodation in the historic centre.
The increase in tourists has also been blamed for a rise in petty crime, from littering to vandalism, and the city banned new takeaway food shops from its centre in May, ruling such shops - with the exception of artisanal gelaterias - "incompatible" with Venetian heritage.