Battle over Venice cruise ship exhibition indicative of wider battle for the oceans

Venice cruise ship port
Venice’s Maritime Port

An exhibition depicting cruise ships sailing through the Venetian lagoon will open in Venice on 22 October 2015 after it was previously blocked by the Mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro. The exhibition of photographs by Gianni Berengo Gardin was due to open on the weekend of 19 September 2015 in the prestigious Doge’s Palace on St Mark’s Square. However, Venice’s Mayor asked the city museum foundation to postpone the exhibition so that it could be presented alongside a display for a new proposed route for cruise ships through the lagoon which is a change he supports. But the photojournalist Gardin and his associated Milan-based foundation, Fondazione Forma per la Fotografia, decided to withdraw his photographs from the city museums. On 23 September 2015, a local Venetian newspaper confirmed that the exhibition of the photographs will be displayed between 22 October 2015 and 6 January 2016 in the former Olivetti show room on St Mark’s Square, supported by the non-profit organisation Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano (FAI) (The Italian Environment Fund):

Grandi navi. I “Mostri a Venezia” arrivano tra un mese

The exhibition consists of 30 black-and-white photographs of cruise ships in Venice and is titled “Monsters in Venice”. FAI, which also showed this exhibition near Milan last summer, stated that the exhibition reveals “a wider problem involving the city, which has for years been subject to a growing, unsustainable and ungoverned influx of tourists,” as referenced in this local newspaper article on 24 September 2015:

Grandi Navi, il Fai apre a Gardin e ospita la mostra delle polemiche

Indeed, the exhibition’s negative depiction of cruise ships sailing through the city follows years of debate about their role in tourism in Venice and management of the city, its lagoon and relationship with the sea. Cruise ships are emblems of modernity that can be perceived as clashing with Venice’s ancient city centre or a welcome contrast. While the Venice Port Authority has consistently been in favour of cruise ships continuing to navigate through the centre of Venice to the Maritime Port which it runs, environmentalists and others have campaigned against this. Yet their campaign against cruise ships navigating the Venetian lagoon builds on negative depictions of mass tourists and illegitimately piggybacked on the fears generated by the Costa Concordia cruise ship crash off the coast of Tuscany in 2012. This campaign is explained in more detail in the following blog post:


The risks of cruise ships crashing in Venice cannot be compared to the crash that happened in Tuscany, which was due to the fault of the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, who allowed his ship to stray off course in the open sea and crash into rocks. Schettino was convicted of manslaughter, pending an appeal likely to start in 2016. In Venice, cruise ship captains surrender control of their vessels to local maritime officials who navigate the ships through the lagoon’s deep channels, avoiding shallow waters and crashing into Venice’s historic sites on land. They are also often towed by tugs, making an accident extremely unlikely. In addition, cruise ships navigating the Venetian lagoon create much less pollution than the journeys by thousands of other vessels around the lagoon every day. Despite this, the “Monsters in Venice” photographer Gardin stated his negative pictures of cruise ships were motivated by pollution. “Above all, I was motivated by the visible pollution,” he remarked in this article:

In the short-term, we believe cruise ships should continue along current routes in the lagoon, avoiding digging the new channels for new routes which Brugnaro and the Port Authority advocate. But cruise ships shouldn’t dock close to residential properties and disturb citizens of Venice with noise and by blocking their view. Therefore, in the long-term, we support the proposal to create a new cruise ship terminal on the Lido littoral island bordering the lagoon, linked to an underground subway train system as explained here:


This would mean cruise ships do not need to navigate through the lagoon, yet passengers could still visit Venice. Moreover, an underground subway train system could vastly reduce the journeys by many vessels around the lagoon and the associated wave damage and pollution. It would also help tourists, residents and others enjoy the city and its waters more efficiently, while boosting the local economy.

Finally, we are in favour of the “Monsters in Venice” exhibition going ahead in the interests of free speech and open debate about these issues. Yet, as the above comments indicate, we are critical of the narrow focus on cruise ships and their passengers as the problems. Cruise ships need to be better managed so that tourists and others can enjoy the relationship of the city and its surrounding waters. As worldwide passenger numbers on cruise ships broke records in 2013 and 2014, more people are taking to the seas for their holidays and cruises are generating job growth in both service and manufacturing sectors. Nevertheless, campaigns against cruise ships have been energetic from Australia to Florida and the 2015 Chinese Yangtze River cruise disaster has raised new safety concerns. We will be debating these wider issues and other questions about how we manage our relationship with the oceans at the Battle of Ideas conference on 17 October 2015 in London at the Barbican, as explained in the following details:

Plumbing the depths: the battle for the oceans

We hope you can join the debate.

One Response to “Battle over Venice cruise ship exhibition indicative of wider battle for the oceans”
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  1. […] train stop connected to a subway system for the whole city (as explained in this previous blog: Battle over Venice cruise ship exhibition indicative of wider battle for the oceans). Indeed, a new port on the Lido has received the approval of the Environment Ministry’s […]

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