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IN PICTURES: ‘Flight of the angel’ launches Venice carnival

Twenty thousand revellers, wearing masks and colourful period costumes, packed into St Mark's Square on Sunday for the "flight of the angel" marking the traditional opening of the Carnival of Venice.

IN PICTURES: 'Flight of the angel' launches Venice carnival
Venice's 'angel' descends from the bell tower. All photos: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Tourists and Venetians alike, the spectators looked on as 19-year-old student Elisa Constantini leapt from the famous St Mark's Campanile bell tower, attached to a wire 80 metres (265 feet) above the ground.

The “angel” threw confetti at the crowd below, in a highlight of one of the world's most celebrated carnivals.

“It's like we're going back in time,” enthused Susie, from Verona in northern Italy, who had come to watch the spectacle.

But modern-day concerns were evident in the high security put on for the event.

“It's normal, these measures,” said Chinese tourist Xu Hong. “You have to have them. That doesn't take away from the beauty, the magic of this event”.

The carnival, which will end on February 13th, is thought to have started in 1162 after a military victory. Abandoned for decades, it was revived in 1980.

READ ALSO: Five crazy Italian festivals to visit at least once in your lifetime

All photos: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

VENICE

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.

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