Don’t get me wrong. I loved the city and had an amazing time exploring the tiny streets, crossing over canals hundreds of times, admiring the views made of gates leading to the water. Before this trip, I was expecting to feel disappointed. I was fearing that Venice could be overrated – famous in every corner of the world, I kept wondering if it was worth the hype. I can tell you it is, at least from my perspective. I definitely did not feel disappointed – I simply felt sad. Since I do love a good list, I have prepared a list of reasons that I myself had to identify within me to justify these unexpected feelings of sadness. Perhaps you can relate?
- The Paradox – the city that could not live with so many tourists, and now it can’t survive without them
For many years, the most I heard about Venice was how overcrowded it had become. To the point that it was not possible to live a normal life. Venetians were suffocating in their own streets when crowds of tourists filled the little space there is between walls everywhere in Venice. Because of this, the population has gone down from 150,000 inhabitants, to only 30,000 in 30 years! Before the pandemic, it was estimated that 20 million tourists visited the city annually… and of course, Venice’s economy became way too reliant on something that was actually unsustainable and harmful for the city. Of course, the pandemic was like a gift for the streets of Venice. They could breathe for a while. And yet, many stores, cafes and restaurants had to close, as you can’t cater to a city of ghosts. With locals being almost non-existent and tourists unable to…well, be tourists, Venice found itself rid of a problem that created another one. No more tourist money. So now what?
2. Such a past… and this is the future?
Venice has such a rich past. Wealth, new and old money, merchants, commerce… centre of intellectual and artistic discussion. Firstly, the city had a great trading relationship with Constantinople – this ensured important commercial ties with other countries. Venice’s power increased with the trading of spices and silk, fish and iron and, of course, slaves. While the treasure increased, Venice became an imperial power and established Latin Europe with the fourth crusade that took place between 1202 and 1204. The Venetian ships sacked Constantinople, with commercial areas of Syria, Palestine, Crete and Cyprus being won over by Venice. Marco Polo, who you may know, as a famous Venetian merchant, reached China. Even after its so-called decline, with the annexation to what is now known as Italy, Venice has always ranked high. Just look at their Carnaval, a unique, elegant, sophisticated approach to what in some countries is just foley and fooling around.
I looked at all of this rich past and wondered… how did this once so powerful place, a muse for artists, has now turned into a tourist attraction? Doesn’t it seem somehow…sad?
3. Where the hell are the cats?
Do not ask me why I was expecting to see stray cats everywhere. No one had told me there were cats in Venice. What I was told was that the city stank (which seems to be true in Summer, but not when you visit it in February like I did and it’s really damn cold). I supposed I would see cats as the oldest citizens of Venice like they are in Dubrovnik. Places like these, in the past, receiving so many ships from multiple parts of the world, we’re often using cats to kill mice, the main transmitter of the plague. And it does seem this was the case in Venice at some point… but while in Dubrovnik the authorities take special care of the cats, the same didn’t seem to have happened in Venice and tourists didn’t bother just the human locals… also the felines. So, I didn’t see a single stray cat during my time in Venice.
5. Plaza de San Marco was so empty
I imagined this to be the centre of life. And maybe it is when it is high season and non-covid era. I was in shock with how many shops and cafes were closed. Venice definitely looked ghostly, especially when you get to its heart and it’s simply…not beating. I did notice on Saturday (I had been there first on Friday) it was a bit more lively, but still. I would have expected more.
What do you think? Do you share the same feelings for Venice or any other place you have visited?
P.S. You can check my Venice posts here.