Venice: a UNESCO site at risk and uninformed visitors

An analysis of the most recent studies on tourism has led us to reflect a great deal: just a small percentage of visitors to Venice (one in ten) visit a museum. Despite the city’s immense historic-artistic heritage and its vast cultural production, not many tourists return to Venice more than once.

Venice is perceived as an “attraction” and, as such, it attracts day-trippers, interested in having a general idea of the city and admiring its aesthetics as a whole rather than visiting the numerous and important interiors of palaces, museums, churches and confraternities (scuole). Is this due to bad communication?

Regarding this question, we would like to address some news which in our opinion did not receive enough attention. With a premise: since 1987 Venice and its lagoon has been on the List of World Heritage of Exceptional Universal Value drafted by the 1972 International Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

The latest report requested by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on the State of Conservation of Venice and its Lagoon (decision 38COM.7B.27), highlights the critical conditions which are putting at risk both the exceptional universal value of Venice and its place on the World Heritage Site list. Of the various critical situations noted, point 8 cites the elevated pressure of tourism, inviting the city to prioritise the development of a sustainable tourism strategy:

The World Heritage Committee,


  1. Recognizes the exceptionally high tourism pressure on the city of Venice, and the extensive tourism related activities, urges the State Party to prioritize the development of a sustainable tourism strategy, and also encourages the State Party to develop jointly with the major tourism and cruise companies alternative solutions to allow cruise tourists to enjoy and understand the value of Venice and also its fragility;

If this highly critical situation persists, the consequence will be the possible removal of Venice and its lagoon onto the List of World Heritage in Danger, where sites requiring urgent safeguarding are placed.

This would be mortifying for Italy, shameful even, considering that of the 46 sites on this list, only two are in Europe (the mercantile port in Liverpool, considered at risk due to a project planning the construction of a large complex which would change the city’s profile, and the medieval complex in Kosovo, at risk due to political instability).

Today (September 2016), Italy has 5 months left to demonstrate that it has taken measures to stop the degradation taking place.

As professionals working in the sector, we can only confirm that this is happening. The majority of visitors we come into contact with do not seem aware of most of the cultural sites in the city, or what they contain. We therefore think it is necessary to work on communicating more effectively all of the culture our city has to offer.

This is why we have decided to devote a series of initiatives about the historic-artistic heritage of the Venetian scuole (confraternities), devotional and voluntary lay associations whose presence permeated the urban fabric of the city to the extent that they occupied – together with hospitals and charitable institutions – approximately 50% of the inhabited surface space.

It is necessary to emphasise that the scuole still hold a significant place within this historic heritage, already rich in its own right, in two ways:

  •  On the one hand, they are entities which have conserved most of their inestimable artistic heritage;o
  • On the other, the Scuole continue to work in the area, maintaining intact their nature as voluntary and devotional entities. They are the living testimonies to the glorious past of the Serenissima Republic of Venice.

As members of the Venetian heritage community (as defined by the Faro Convention in 2005), we would like to use our professionalism to contribute to suggesting and promoting different ways of visiting and experiencing Venice.

© Venezia Arte