by Andrea Vogt, The Associated Press, September 27, 2019
Venice is cracking down on souvenir shops selling low-cost goods that have proliferated along the popular canals of the city over the past decade.
After stiffening penalties for misbehaving tourists last May, the city is now taking steps to restrict and regulate shopkeepers selling plastic miniature gondolas, cheap carnival masks, crudely manufactured “Murano-style” trinkets, and low-cost leather goods.
The Venice City Council unanimously approved a resolution regulating commercial activity in the popular tourist area around Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal to assure it is “compatible with the protection and enhancement needs of the city’s cultural heritage.”
The decree not only limits the categories of new store openings or transfers to be allowed in the designated area, but also regulates how existing shops display, market and light their goods.
“We needed to give a strong signal in defense of Venice and its traditions,” said Mayor Luigi Brugnaro.
The resolution regulating commercial activity is the latest salvo in city administrators’ ongoing war against degradation in the World Heritage city.
The decree, valid for the next three years once passed by the regional council, limits new shop openings to the following categories: high-end fashion, bookshops, art and antique trade and restoration, coin and stamp collecting, precious watches and objects, furniture and design, and traditional artisan items.
Existing shops in the designated area will have six months from final approval to tidy up their storefronts so there are no goods hanging from the doors, no window frames made of materials other than wood or metal, limits on the brightness of cool, white lights and signs in the windows saying where displayed goods were made.
While some critics grumbled that the new rules new rules punish low-budget travellers and risks making Venice an elite oasis for the rich and famous, the crackdown was largely met with applause by locals.
“Finally! We feel this is a positive, necessary step and we hope it will have an immediate impact,” said Luciano Gambaro, a Murano glassmaker and president on the Consorzio Promovetro Murano, which represents 50 authentic glass furnaces on the Venetian island.
While a certification process exists so consumers can determine the authenticity of an original Murano glass object, the knock-off figurines, vases and stemware tourists inevitably encounter in Venice remain an affront to artisans carrying on the ancient glass blowing tradition.
“If products that are not original and not quality are being sold in our city, and tourists buy these things amidst the chaos, it ends up doing damage not only economically, but also to our image, by offending and diminishing our identity, traditions, history and culture,” Mr Gambaro told the Telegraph.
“We absolutely need these kinds of rules, not just to safeguard Venetians, but also to protect quality tourism.”
While tourism is a lucrative source of income, activist groups like Venice is Not Disneyland have been raising the alarm about damage to the lagoon from massive cruise ships and badly behaving tourists who break the basic rules of decorum: swimming in canals, picnicking near city monuments and bouncing their heavy trolleys down the fragile stone steps of its iconic bridges.
Earlier this month a Venetian gondolier was head butted by an enraged tourist trying to take a selfie.
Two Czech tourists were charged fines for offending public decency after swimming naked in a canal close to St Mark’s Square.