ROME — Declaring Venice’s waterways a “national monument,” Italy is banning mammoth cruise liners from sailing into the lagoon city, which risked being declared an imperiled world heritage site by the United Nations within days.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said the ban was urgently adopted at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday and will take effect Aug. 1. It applies to the lagoon basin near St. Mark’s Square and the Giudecca Canal, which is a major marine artery in Venice.
Franceschini said the government decided to act fast “to avoid the concrete risk” that the U.N. culture agency UNESCO would add Venice to its list of “world heritage in danger” after it meets later this week in Beijing.
The Cabinet decree also “establishes an unbreakable principle, by declaring the urban waterways of St. Mark’s Basin, St. Mark’s Canal and the Giudecca Canal a national monument,” the minister added.
Before the coronavirus pandemic severely curtailed international travel, cruise ships discharging thousands of day-trippers overwhelmed Venice and its delicate marine environment. Environmentalists and cultural heritage have battled for decades with business interests, since the cruise industry is a major source of revenue for the city.
UNESCO recommended last month placing Venice on the agency’s list of World Heritage in Danger sites.
The Italian government previously decided to ban the ships but without establishing so soon a date. But on Tuesday, the government “decided to impose a strong acceleration” to implementing the move given the looming UNESCO review, Franceschini said in a statement.
The ban applies to ships weighing more than 25,000 tons or longer than 180 meters (530 feet) or with other characteristics that would make them too polluting or overwhelming for Venice’s environment.
The Cabinet decree also establishes compensation mechanisms for navigation companies and others affected by the ban. Until a more suitable docking area can be established elsewhere in waters outside the heart of Venice, the government has approved creating at least four temporary docking sites near the industrial port of Marghera, located on the northwestern Adriatic Sea.