Feature: Venice turns 1,600 years young

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ROME, March 25 (Xinhua) — The past two years have not been kind to Venice, one of Italy’s biggest tourist attractions.

Two summers ago, the city’s problem with oversized cruise ships came to a head when one of the vessels crashed into a dock and a tourist boat, injuring five. Plagued by overtourism, the city sparked controversy when it started charging a special tax to those visiting from out of town. Then, in late 2019, Venice saw its most severe flooding in nearly 50 years.

A little more than a year ago came the biggest problem to date: the coronavirus pandemic, a near knockout blow to the city’s fragile economy.

On Thursday, Venice marked its 1,600th birthday: it was founded in what was then the Western Roman Empire in the year 421. Spread over 118 small islands separated by canals and connected by more than 400 bridges, legend has it that the city was founded on the central island of Rialto.

If there is any solace in the celebration of a landmark anniversary during such a difficult time, it is the knowledge that the city has been through far worse and yet it survived.

“As people age, they are less fazed by what happens because they have seen more,” Angela Serin, a Venice-based tour guide who has been earning money as a dog walker since the pandemic struck, told Xinhua. “It’s the same with cities. Venice is an old city.”

Without a doubt, Venice has seen repeated highs and lows over the past 1,600 years. At one point, the city rose up to become one of Europe’s economic and maritime superpowers and an international cultural hub, but it has also been flooded and sacked and overrun by invaders countless times.

Venice has also had its share of pandemics as it survived three major outbreaks of plague. In fact, the word “quarantine” comes from the Italian “quarenta giorni” — meaning “forty days” — a reference to the amount of time ships had to dock off Venice’s shores before crew and merchandise could disembark, a safeguard against importing diseases from faraway ports.

“This seems like a tragic period to us, but Venice has made it through more severe problems over the centuries,” Serin said.

Listed as a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Venice — home to fewer than 60,000 permanent residents — is the Italian city most visited by tourists ahead of Rome, Milan and Florence.

In recent years, the March 25 anniversary in the city has been an excuse for major celebrations. But this year the date is marked in a discrete fashion. Coronavirus health restrictions prevent gatherings, and restaurants and bars remain closed.

But there are bright spots: with maritime traffic all but halted, the health of the Venetian Lagoon has improved dramatically, and earlier this week dolphins were spotted swimming there for the first time in more than a century.

Mayor Luigi Brugnaro predicted that the city would show its resilience once the pandemic passes.

“This too will pass,” Brugnaro said in a televised interview. “The tourists will come back, things will return to normal and we’ll try to learn from the mistakes of the past and move forward.” Enditem

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