‘Venice is dying’: Residents vote on whether to split city in half

Venetians headed to the polls on Sunday to decide whether they want the historic and ‘floating’ centre of the city to literally break away from its more populated boroughs on the mainland, a vote brought on by the negative consequences of mass tourism on Venice’s residents.

'Venice is dying': Residents vote on whether to split city in half
Photo: Deposit Photos

Venice authorities have called on its citizens to decide whether they want to split their municipality in two – on one side the historic city and islands which are famously built on stilts on the lagoon, and on the other the inland and more residential ‘frazioni’ known as Mestre. 

It’s a decision that beggars belief at a time when referendums across Europe, approved or attempted, seem to be sowing more divisions than any actual prospect of civil neighbourliness.


But the case for a referendum in Venice isn’t one based on cultural identity or fear of foreign government; instead its focal points are mass tourism, depopulation and urban decay.  

On Wednesday September 25 Veneto Region’s president Luca Zaia announced that the referendum was legitimate and could go ahead in two months, even though he did not have the support of Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who urged all residents not to take part in “yet another referendum on separation”.

How Mestre municipality would look (in red) if it were to separate from old Venice. Screenshot: Google Maps

Strangely enough, there have been previous calls in recent years for Venice to separate itself from Italy altogether and become its own independent country (it was already its own city-state for 1,000 years), but this referendum call is more pragmatic and moderate.

“It’s the only solution possible for effectively governing these distinct cities,” We Are Here Venice, a non-profit association that addresses the municipality’s challenges, describes on its website.

“Venice and Mestre are two completely different realities that were united during fascism in 1926 and whose history and issues are entirely different.”

Whereas tourism in old Venice has ballooned to the current 20 million annual visitors it receives today, its other six boroughs on the mainland are largely post-industrial, overpopulated areas that receive little attention and investment by comparison.

Ponte della Libertà (Liberty Bridge) connects Venice's historical centre and islands to Mestre. Photo: Didier Descouens/Wikimedia

The group, which campaigns against everything from the influx of large cruise ships arriving at Venetian shores to the old city’s drastic depopulation, maintains that having two separate municipalities would allow each part of current-day Venice to deal with its own set of problems more effectively.

An average 2 to 3 Venetian residents are leaving the old city every day, making it more than 1000 per year). Half of the resident population that’s left is aged over 65.

“If things do not change, Venice’s death is inevitable.”

Member comments

  1. Turn Venice as well as the other most popular tourist destinations over to the Disney Company. Then we can stop pretending that local officials are competent and have the best interest of the residents at heart and also that all the Chinese made shit being hawked on every street corner and souvenir shop will have the official Disney stamp of approval.

    Greed and corruption, biblical vices are what drives our world today. Italy has simply refined the process!!!!

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.