Tens of thousands of tourists arrive daily into Venice from automobiles, tour buses, and the train, crossing from the mainland via the bridge originally built in the nineteenth century by the occupying Austrians. Apparently, strategically located in every dozen or so of the arched openings underneath the surface of the bridge (1) are a series of chambers where, if deemed necessary, dynamite could be inserted to bring down the entire structure should Venice ever be invaded. Today, many locals are only half-jokingly examining just such a defense in order to stem the invasion of tourists. The western end of the historic island of Venice has been taken over by parking facilities (2) to accommodate the hordes. Tour buses cram a massive parking lot where disgorged luggage is conveyer-belted down into overloaded boats (3) to be taken away to the increasing number of hotels.
Increasingly, more and more tourists rely upon cruise ships as their means for invading Venice. Traffic jams develop on weekends as departing or arriving ships jockey for position (1). The size of these leviathans, some a staggering fourteen stories in height (2), totally overwhelm all buildings in the medieval-scaled city (3,4,5). Nowhere is this more obvious than along calli in Dorsoduro when these moving mountains actually eclipse the sun (6,7). Just as alarming is to be interrupted when sitting at a desk or diner table by a blaring speaker or choking exhaust fumes (8) and to look up over the top of neighboring apartment buildings and see thousands and thousands of tourists gaping down at you as if you were an actor on the stage of your own home (9,10). One actually fears that when these monstrosities are tethered to the fondamenta edge (11,12) they might actually be capable of ripping asunder the very fabric of the city itself should they ever topple over and capsize. One such berthing is particularly incongruous in that ships here completely dwarf the small corner house on the Riva dei Sette Martiri (13: bottom left of photo) which is actually the home of the explorer Giovanni Caboto who in 1497 became the first European to 'discover' North America (after, that is, the Vikings and possibly also the Clovis peoples, Basques, and Irish but certainly not, as historically-challenged Americans oddly believe, Columbus). Here one can walk beside the giant ships (14) and witness them open their bowels to release their next excreta of unwelcome tourists (15) who like lemmings blindly follow their umbrella holding or flag waving tour guides into the city (16).
Locals enjoy the pyrrhic victory in watching struggling invaders try to find their way around the complicated layout of the city (1,2,3,4) though the geographical inquiries raised are always the same since most tourists never break free of the entrapment of the 'Bermuda shorts triangle' of St Mark's Square, the Rialto Bridge and the Accademia Bridge or Salute church. At least the tourists pictured in these photos are independent and not part of the mindless hordes (see last section) in the tour groups who sometimes don't even know what country Venice is in!
Groups of tourists flow in from cruise ships and water buses along the fondamenta shorelines (1) and surge up in clogging whitecapped swells over the bridges (2,3,4,5,6), often pausing in the most inappropriate places to take photos while doing so, before getting caught in the back eddies when window shopping in the narrow calli (7) until they eventually pour out into the huge tourist tidal basin of St Mark's Square. Here they gaze at the sights (8), enjoy staged spectacles (9), and a 'few' spend hours (10) and hours (11) and hours (12) and hours (13) waiting in lines to enter the Campanile or Basilica, while the majority simply mill aimlessly about in vast crowds (14,15,16) taking photos of others taking photos of others who are in turn taking photos of them in one gigantic postmodernist experience of mass tourism on steroids. Locals no longer venture into the sucking whirlpool of St Mark's which they have completely relinquished to the tourists. They refuse, however, to surrender any ground when it comes to riding on the vaporetta water buses. Nothing raises the ire of native Venetians more than swarms of ignorant tourists who block entrances to the boats (17,18) and once on board insist upon standing like squashed sardines near the exits (19,20,21), some accompanied by their enormous suitcases or backpacks, for purposes of sightseeing. Finally, one after another of Venice's indigenous festivals such as that of the Redentore (22,23,24,25; note cameras held high) continue to appropriated by rowdy tourists at the expense of the locals.
Venice is also infested by thousands of 'flying rats' who pander for handouts from tourists (1, 2) and occasionally express their gratitude by staging large thank you's (3) before flying away to their homes created by picking apart the already crumbling stones of Venice (4).
Everyone's romantic dream is of a solitary gondola ride on the placid waters of the Grand Canal (1) or along some lonely, mysterious backwater (2) but few realize the rarity of accomplishing this in today's Venice. Much more common are scenes of gondolas squeezing past each other in congested canals (3,4) or large flotillas that form before heading out onto the Grand Canal (5,6), a wise, protective strategy since the lone gondola can fall easy prey to the packs of predatory motorboats that seem to hunt there (7).
Modern Venice has reinvented itself as one vast outdoor shopping mall selling the most horrendous kitsch imaginable. Tourists are lured by thousands of shops and kiosks (1,2,3) that proudly display their 'authentic' 'Murano' glass or 'Venetian' masks (much of which actually originates from China). Nothing has come to symbolize the death of Venice for locals more than the plague of mask shops that have taken over the entire city in the last decade (4,5,6,7,8,9) pushing out other goods and services stores that are needed for preserving indigenous livability. Most of the seventeen million tourists who visit Venice each year are of the 'bite and run' variety, there for only a few hours before they return back to the mainland or their cruise ships, leaving behind, however, mountains of waste to be cleaned up on land by city workers (10) or on water by NGOs (11).
From the top of one of Venice's campaniles it is often possible to count dozens of motorboats zooming about every which way (1). Although the water buses (2) are numerous. it is the near constant stream of boats that feed the tourism industry by carrying supplies for hotels and restaurants (3,4) or other private craft (5) that cause most of the environmental damage and traffic congestion.
With its lonely canals (1), remnant buildings, and recolonizing nature (2,3), the lagoon island of Torcello, once populated by over twenty thousand people in the fourteenth century, may presage Venice's future if the exodus of the latter's citizens continues. And like Venice, extensive renovations are now taking place on Torcello (4) in order to make it more tourist friendly.
As a result of financially ruinous rent, occasionally deplorable living conditions, and ubiquitous diminishing services, many boarded up homes exist in the historic center of Venice (1) as locals flee, not without palatable regret and genuine sadness, over the modern bridge of sighs (2,3), abandoning their beloved city to the increasing floods of water and tourists.
Many thousands of Venetians have been forced to relocate to the sprawling bedroom community of Mestre on the mainland, a place of few distinguishing features (1, 2,3) yet providing modern urban conveniences as well as other benefits such as the absence of flooding and manageable densities of tourists who remain contained in the area immediately around the train station. The sad reality is that it is actually possible to live a more authentic Italian life here in this concrete jungle than it is in the fairyland of Venice that has been sacrificed to tourism.
Located near the Rialto Bridge is one of the saddest sights in all of Venice. An electronic tally board here is counting down the diminishing population of locals which had declined from 60,704 when in was established in late March 2008 (1) to 60,600 a mere three months later (2), a rate that if continued would mean that Venetians will be extinct within the next half century.