The UK-based Venice in Peril Fund is one of several international charities devoted to safeguarding the future of this unique city. Guy Elliott, Chairman of Venice in Peril, outlines some of its recent projects.
The Venice in Peril Fund was founded in 1971, succeeding an earlier fund instituted in 1966 in response to that year’s devastating floods. Today, more than 50 years later, Venice may be in even greater peril. Climate change is increasing the frequency of high tide occurrences, known as Acqua alta. These, as well as causing flooding, allow saline penetration of the
Over this long period, Venice in Peril has focused chiefly on the conservation of monuments, especially in stone, for example the Porta della Carta (Doge’s Palace) or the Loggetta around the campanile. But the charity has also conserved works of art and smaller projects ranging from a globe by Vincenzo Coronelli to 18 Goldoni puppets. Over 75 projects have been carried out using its funding alongside the City, Museum and Church authorities. At the same time the charity has aimed to broaden public understanding of the city’s challenges.
One of Venice in Peril’s most recently completed conservation projects is
These same problems of Venice’s foundations being eaten away or suffering other environmental damage have been the focus of the charity in many other projects. One example is at the imposing Gothic church of Madonna del Orto in Cannaregio. Another is at the Basilica of Torcello, where recently the iconostasis was conserved. An ongoing project is at the Archivo de Stato, where following our earlier restorations of its main monumental doorway and its Baroque well-head, further interventions are planned to the archangels guarding the corners of this former cloister, once attached to the Frari.
The Italian authorities, despite many competing demands placed on them, are not altogether neglecting the challenges which Venice faces. The massive MOSE project, which consists of retractable floodgates built between the outermost islands of the lagoon, has been a welcome development—unfortunately not operational for the Acqua alta of 2019, the worst since 1966. The MOSE barriers were first raised in October 2020. On a smaller scale, a glass barrier has been put in place around San Marco, reflecting the basilica’s position as one of the lowest lying points in the city. Venice in Peril has likewise assisted San Nicolò dei Mendicoli with similar counter-measures, the latest after the 2019 flooding, in a series of interventions at the church made since the 1970s.
Venice’s challenges are not confined to the environment. As is well known, giant cruise liners have been controversial. Their enormous scale, dwarfing the city’s greatest monuments, caused much offence. Since 2021 ships over 25,000 tonnes are no longer permitted to sail up the Giudecca Canal or moor in the basin of San Marco. They instead take a different route to the port of Marghera on the mainland. While this diminishes the visual impact, nothing changes the disgorgement of very large numbers of passengers who make a negligible contribution to the city’s economy since they tend not to stay overnight. In 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, the city had 5.5 m overnight stays and 13 m overall visitors. The pandemic emptied Venice, but since 2022 tourism has resumed, with all that that entails.
The city’s overdependence on tourism has changed the housing rental sector. Many residents have quit the old city for the mainland, renting out their apartments, often in an unregulated manner. This undermines the formal hotel and pensione sector. It also accelerates depopulation. Venice’s present population, which has been consistently falling, is around 50,000 as against its peak of 175,000 in the early 1950s. This partly reflects the lack of employment prospects, especially for young people, except in the tourist sector.
As well as diverting the giant cruise liners, a daily levy has been introduced for day trippers. This innovation, like several others, has been controversial. But the scale of challenges that Venice faces requires considerable imagination. In many areas, solutions have proved elusive. Often, unpleasant choices need to be made in order to safeguard one of mankind’s most sublime achievements. This will not be the last such case.
Venice in Peril Fund offers a unique and worthwhile channel to those who love the city, enabling them to discover more about Venice while contributing to conservation that can encourage sustainability and assist economic renewal. The website www.veniceinperil.org gives details about past and present projects and enables donations to be made easily. Funds are always needed to keep pace with the seemingly inexhaustible list of endangered buildings, monuments, sculptures and works of art. The charity holds regular events for its supporters, and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram.
Venice in Peril thanks the publishers of the excellent Blue Guide for again giving us space to explain our purpose and why it matters to those who love the city.
Guy Elliott, Chairman, Venice in Peril Fund CIO