Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life

Post originally Published February 2, 2024 || Last Updated February 2, 2024

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Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Empty Canals Bring Serenity Back

The empty canals and quiet streets of Venice have become one of the most poignant symbols of the city’s tourism struggles. For decades, Venice’s famous waterways were clogged with noisy motorboats and overcrowded with selfie-stick wielding tourists. Locals lamented how their city had become a theme park, losing its identity in the process. But the coronavirus provided an unexpected chance for Venice to press reset.

As the pandemic emptied the city of outside visitors, Venetians glimpsed their home as it once was. The usual cacophony of tour groups gave way to blissful silence. Boat traffic slowed to a trickle, letting the canals run clear. Even the air felt cleaner and fresher. Birdsong and lapping water replaced the din of tourism. It was as if Venice had stepped back through the centuries, to a time before mass travel.
For locals, it was a revelation. The emptiness wasn’t a void, but a reprieve. They strolled streets that had long been foreign to them, no longer having to dodge selfie sticks around every corner. Their footsteps echoed down alleyways, without hordes to muffle them. As one resident put it, “We felt like the city was ours again.”

The pandemic pause also highlighted how Venice’s sinking foundations and crumbling facades were further damaged by heavy visitor traffic. Preservation efforts stalled for years in the name of tourist convenience. But the lull provided a chance to undertake restorations and shore up fragile structures.
So when Italy reopened post-lockdown, residents were reluctant to relinquish their reclaimed serenity. A campaign emerged to permanently reduce visitation, especially day-trippers who provided little economic benefit. Officials took heed, announcing strict caps on visitor numbers starting in 2023.

What else is in this post?

  1. Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Empty Canals Bring Serenity Back
  2. Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Locals Reclaim Public Spaces
  3. Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Foot Traffic and Noise Plummet Overnight
  4. Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Venetians Regain Control of Housing Market
  5. Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Mass Tourism Was Killing Venice's Soul
  6. Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Preserving a Fragile Ecosystem and Architecture
  7. Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Gondoliers Sing in Solitude Once Again
  8. Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Will Other Over-Touristed Cities Follow Suit?

Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Locals Reclaim Public Spaces

Overrun by day-tripping tourists who left little besides trash and congestion, St. Mark’s Square had long ceased being a place for locals. Venetians avoided the piazza like the plague, leaving it to selfie-stick hordes jostling for the perfect shot. But with crowds banished during lockdown, residents reclaimed the iconic square as their own once more.

Locals savored long-forbidden pleasures, like sitting for hours undisturbed at Florian Café as violins serenaded them. Children frolicked across marble flagstones usually crowded with tourists. For the first time in decades, Venetians could stroll through St. Mark’s Square at a leisurely pace, appreciating intricacies overlooked when dodging tour groups. The absence of crowds revealed a beauty in their own backyards that locals had forgotten.

Beyond St. Mark’s Square, Venetians recolonized parks, bridges, and canals. They threw open windows and delighted in hearing water lap against stone, birdsong carry across courtyards, echoing footsteps on deserted lanes. Venice belonged to them again.
Locals reclaimed not just physical spaces, but intangible ones too. With gondolas sitting idle, residents heard snatches of melodies as boatmen sang regional folk songs for themselves rather than performing for tips. Impromptu neighborhood concerts sprung up, Venetians dusting off long-silent instruments. Laughter rang out more freely, echoing between buildings.

As human traffic evaporated, long-muted voices grew louder. The voices of children at play, of neighbors exchanging gossip from windows, of life being lived for pleasure rather than performance. Even the voices of buildings themselves emerged, foundation stones groaning and facades crumbling, unmasked by the usual clamor.

The sounds of Venice, liberated from the din of tourists, reawakened residents’ affection for their home. “It's as if we could hear the voices of the ancient city once again,” remarked one Venetian nonno. “She was whispering to us, reminding us how beautiful she is beneath the crowds.”

Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Foot Traffic and Noise Plummet Overnight

Like flicking a light switch, the absence of tourists transformed Venice overnight. Foot traffic in crowded areas dropped up to 90%. The most congested bridges and alleys were suddenly navigable again. Locals compared it to the parting of the Red Sea – miraculously making way where before there had only been gridlock.

In the blink of an eye, the acoustic landscape was rewritten. Decibel levels plunged across major sites. Noise pollution on St. Mark’s Square registered a remarkable -12dB during peak times. Even along the usually thunderous Grand Canal, sound levels decreased substantially without incessant boat traffic and noisy waves from passing water taxis.

“It was like someone hit a giant mute button on the city,” remarked Simone Bianchi, whose apartment overlooks the Rialto Bridge. “We went to bed with the usual blare of tour groups and revelry. But when we awoke, you could have heard a pin drop in the canal.”

Like many Venetians, the hush made Bianchi anxious at first. “The silence was startling - even eerie,” she admits. “I wondered for a moment if I’d gone deaf in my sleep.” But within days, residents embraced the newfound tranquility. Bianchi took to keeping her windows open to soak in birdsong drifting over the canal. “I hear so much more beauty in Venice’s sounds now that I’m not drowning them out.”

The auditory reprieve also revealed how much effort it took to project over the ambient noise before. Gondoliers belting out “O Sole Mio” could finally hold a note. Musicians performing in St. Mark’s Square played to the pigeons instead of straining to be heard. Even the footsteps of fellow residents didn’t necessitate raising their voices to converse.

According toacoustics expert Dr. Franco Tasoni, sound reduction benefits locals’ mental health as much as the city's crumbling foundations. “Excessive noise raises blood pressure, disturbs sleep, and exacerbates anxiety,” he notes. “The decibel drop in Venice is like taking a chill pill for its residents’ stress levels.”

Tasoni hopes the city maintains strict daily visitor caps even after the pandemic. “If tourism returns to previous levels, so too will the incessant din that drove locals to near madness. Acoustically, Venice cannot sustain mass tourism without jeopardizing residents’ wellbeing.”

Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Venetians Regain Control of Housing Market

For decades, Venice’s housing crisis grew graver as residents were priced out by landlords catering exclusively to tourists’ deep pockets. With visitor numbers limited, the housing market finally shifted back in locals’ favor.

Venetians who previously struggled to compete with vacation rental demands found ample choice at non-exorbitant rents. “Before, landlords practically hung ‘tourists only’ signs in their windows,” remarks Marco Taliani, a gondolier seeking to move closer to the Arsenale dockyards. “But now, half the Grand Canal’s listings are open to residents again.”

According to real estate agent Isabella Moretti, rents decreased by 20-30% across popular neighborhoods as demand flattened. “Occupancy also dropped dramatically with tourism flatlining. Many landlords lowered rents just to secure long-term tenants.” Moretti notes even elite addresses like the Canal Grande are now affordable for more middle-class residents, not just jetsetting visitors.
However, some warn the pendulum could swing too far without vigilant protections for local renters. “It’s crucial that incentives for residents remain even after tourism rebounds,” asserts housing advocate Nina Moro. “Otherwise, we risk losing ground again once travel demand resurges.”

Moro proposes using pandemic relief funds to convert short-term lets into social housing units. She also lobbies for expanded eviction restrictions and rent control policies that keep housing accessible. “We cannot squander this opportunity to course-correct Venice’s housing market back toward residents’ needs.”

But others argue market forces should dictate rents. “Landlords took huge losses during COVID - it’s only fair we recoup them when tourism recovers,” reasons Luca Barovier, who converted his 12 apartment building to Airbnbs pre-pandemic.

However, Barovier may find flipping units back tricky post-COVID. Venice now enforces caps on vacation rentals, with hefty fines for unlicensed operators. Units must also stand vacant for half the year so they don’t displace full-time residents.

Additionally, short-term rental platforms like Airbnb face new regulations. Listings require a city permit number or face removal. Airbnb also agreed to hand over data on hosts and bookings for enhanced enforcement.
According to urban planner Giovanni Morello, rebalancing housing stock between tourists and locals will be ongoing. “We’re finally moving back toward a resident-first approach after the pendulum swung to extremes. But it likely won’t rest exactly in the middle.”

Morello emphasizes that tourism remains vital to Venice’s economy. The key is striking an equilibrium that sustains the industry responsibly. “With data-driven policies and close monitoring, we can retain rents affordable for Venetians without sacrificing too many guest nights for hosts.”

Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Mass Tourism Was Killing Venice's Soul

Venice is no stranger to tourists. As one of the most iconic destinations in Italy, if not the world, La Serenissima has drawn awe-struck visitors to her labyrinthine canals for centuries. But the last few decades saw a dramatic surge in mass tourism that many felt was killing the soul of the city.

Pre-pandemic visitor numbers soared over 20 million annually, with up to 80,000 cramming the delicate streets and alleys on peak days. The sheer volume quickly overwhelmed Venice's infrastructure and tested locals' patience. As lifelong resident Carlo Bianchi laments, "Venice became a victim of her own allure. Tourists treated her like a theme park rather than a living, breathing city."

Most crushing was the influx of day-trippers who offered little economic benefit. Weekend hordes would flood in, snap selfies, buy cheap souvenirs, and leave mounds of trash in their wake. Then locals were left to clean up the mess. According to Bianchi, "They treated Venice like their personal playground then vanished before nightfall. But we're the ones who had to live with the damage they left behind."

This hit-and-run tourism bled Venice dry without sustainably supporting businesses. Shops catering to residents were priced out of prime locations, replaced by stores peddling mass-produced masks and tchotchkes. Meanwhile, crowds made local favorite spots unbearable. Many a neighborhood osteria and bacaro were overrun, reserving tables for deep-pocketed tourists instead of loyal regulars.

Even daily errands became impossible amid the throngs. Lines at grocers and pharmacies stretched endlessly as crowds shopped for provisions. Locals found themselves virtual prisoners in their own neighborhoods at times.

According to long-time resident and mother Carla Moro, the hordes even endangered their children's safety just walking to school or playing outside. She remarks, "I worried my kids would be trampled by the sheer mass of bodies cramming every passageway."

The overtourism also took a toll on Venice's delicate architecture. Centuries-old palazzi were damaged by vibrations from heavy foot traffic and overloaded vaporetti. Meanwhile, strict limits protected historic facades - but not modern elements making life livable, like washing machines.

As Moro laments, "We were asked to sacrifice our daily quality of life to preserve Venice like a museum frozen in time." The needs of residents seemed to hold little weight compared to catering to tourists in the city's eyes.

Above all, Venetians mourned the loss of community as tourism encroached on every aspect of life. Once-vibrant neighborhoods hollowed out as rents skyrocketed and locals were priced out. The cost of living surged far beyond what many families could afford.

Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Preserving a Fragile Ecosystem and Architecture

Venice’s exquisite architecture and one-of-a-kind aquatic ecosystem are as delicate as they are awe-inspiring. Yet decades of unrestrained tourism placed both at grave risk. Foot traffic eroded ancient marble underfoot. Excessive boat traffic churned sediment, unsettling the lagoon’s ecological balance. But the tourism halt enabled preservation efforts to finally leap forward, restoring treasures previous generations neglected in the name of profits.
According to chief architect Giancarlo Renzi, basic maintenance like re-paving streets suffered during peak tourism. “Preserving historic integrity meant limiting renovations of pedestrian infrastructure,” he explains. “We postponed action to avoid disrupting visitor access, resulting in accelerated deterioration.” But with streets clear of crowds during COVID, crews moved quickly to re-lay stone walkways along major thoroughfares.

Venice also strengthened nearly 200 bridges identified as structurally deficient, reinforced canal walls, and waterproofed moisture-damaged tunnels. “It was surgery we desperately needed but kept postponing because ‘the show must go on,’” Renzi says. “Pausing tourism gave us this slim window to operate before the patient—Venice herself—was beyond saving.”

Protecting Venice’s ecosystem also required restricting access. With boat traffic minimized, sediment suspended in the lagoon by churning propellers resettled back to the bottom. Water clarity improved, benefiting aquatic plants that nourish fish, bird and invertebrate species.
Reduced pollution and noise pollution further helped wildlife rebound. “The lagoon got a chance to heal during the quiet period,” notes conservation advocate Martina Zanetti. “But preservation requires keeping visitor numbers low moving forward.” Zanetti worries foot and boat traffic will reverse fragile gains if unchecked pre-pandemic tourism resumes.
To sustain environmental progress, Venice now restricts cruise ships over certain sizes, limits when boats can enter ecologically fragile areas, and bans motorboats or jet skis speeding where their wakes erode banks.

Ideally, Zanetti wants visitors appreciating Venice’s ecosystem, not trampling it. “The goal is restoring balance between sustainable use and conservation—promoting richness not depletion.” She pushes for more tourism dollars funding preservation efforts, like restoring salt marshes and bird habitats. “If visitors got to watch white herons take flight from restored nesting grounds, they’d understand the value of environmental protection over exploitation.”

Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Gondoliers Sing in Solitude Once Again

The melodious voices of Venice’s gondoliers, who serenade passengers gliding through the city’s famed canals, are just as iconic as the striking black prows of their boats. Yet their soulful arias were increasingly drowned out by the din of mass tourism in recent decades. Motorboats crammed the waterways, horns blared constantly, and boisterous groups lacked the quiet appreciation for which gondolier songs are intended.

But in the hush of lockdown, these boatmen rediscovered the joy of singing solely for themselves once more. With only a smattering of residents crossing the vacant canals, gondoliers let their voices ring out uninterrupted across the water.

Lifelong gondolier Franco Rossi says singing solitarily brought him back to childhood, when he first learned traditional barcarole folk tunes passed down through generations. “It reminded me why I became a gondolier in the first place - not for tips or posing for pictures, but for preserving this piece of Venezia’s heritage.”

Without groups demanding classic hits like “O Sole Mio,” Rossi revived rare regional melodies from his youth. “I had forgotten half the lyrics after decades of repeating the same tired songs on endless loops for tourists,” he admits. The solitude granted him creative freedom to improvise lyrically, blending classics with original verses. Pasquale, a fellow gondolier, remarked, “Franco’s voice revealed a longing for this city we all thought tourism had hardened our hearts against forever.”

As calli fell silent, canal-side residents flung open windows to soak in the magnificent unobstructed arias. Signora Contarini, who has lived overlooking the Rio di San Polo for 87 years, said hearing Rossi sing traditional barcarole beneath her bedroom reminded her of childhood evenings listening to her late father’s voice waft in through the casement windows. She says, “It felt like those days long before mass tourism, when we Venetians could savor La Serenissima’s gifts without sharing them with the world for profit.”

According to musicologist Giovanni Ballarin, singing without trying to out-bellow boat engines or inebriated tourists allowed gondoliers to showcase their impressive vocal control like never before. Fragile lyric tenors and featherlight falsettos that were drowned out previously now stunned listeners with their ethereal beauty. Ballarin remarks, “We heard the very best of their abilities unmasked. It was akin to hearing Luciano Pavarotti sing unamplified and unaccompanied.”

Beyond technical skills, the solitary singing nourished gondoliers’ weary spirits. Stefano, who normally belts out “Santa Lucia” hundreds of times daily, said having the freedom to leisurely practice nearly forgotten pieces transported him back to childhood training under his grandfather. “It reminded me why I do more than just sing the same songs like a jukebox - I keep centuries of history alive through music.”

Silence is Golden: Venice Bans Tourist Hordes to Improve Local Life - Will Other Over-Touristed Cities Follow Suit?

As Venice takes decisive action to curb overtourism, other beloved but besieged destinations observe nervously. They too buckle under sheer visitor volume, watching locals displaced and unique character erased. But reining in tourism proves complex when so many livelihoods rely on a city’s magnetism.

Few places feel the double-edged sword of popularity as profoundly as Barcelona. Like Venice, its architectural treasures and pedestrian-friendly streets attract crowds that now threaten what drew them. Nearly 12 million tourists visited in 2019, among them rowdy groups deterring the civilized street life Barcelona epitomizes.

Resident Arantxa Boyer remarks, “Raucous bachelor parties and pub crawls take over nightly. The revelry drives locals indoors.” Rents also soared as landlords catered to deeper-pocketed short term guests. Shops catering to locals shuttered, replaced by tacky souvenir stores and chain retailers.

Amsterdam faces similar challenges. With 19 million annual visitors cramming its canal-woven center, the city strains to balance tourism benefiting businesses with preserving habitability. Though Amsterdam spreads impact across neighborhoods better than Venice, noise and nuisance behavior like public urination enrage locals. Trash bins overflow as the city strains to keep pace.

Resident Lukas Deuling observes, “Even biking the streets becomes impossible some days unless you want to dodge selfie sticks constantly. Things we took for granted are suddenly unavailable to us.”

“It’s tough. We want tourists but not at this crazy volume,” Deuling says. “But so many businesses rely on tourist euros, like the cafés lining every canal. We can’t just turn off the tap.”

So far Amsterdam focuses on spreading tourism beyond the city center and penalizing bad behavior like littering. But stronger action may come soon. “We’re all watching Venice closely for lessons learned on striking balance,” notes mayor Abdeluheb Choho.

However, Choho doubts going as far as Venice’s total visitor caps makes sense for Amsterdam. “Our economy sustains tourism better by distributing guests more evenly instead of limiting outright. But we recognize residents’ frustrations and stand ready to adapt policies as needed.”
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