I just spent a week in Venice and small crowds and armed police presence made it feel like an entirely different city

I just spent a week in Venice and small crowds and armed police presence made it feel like an entirely different city
·4 min read
The author traveled to Venice for the annual film festival. Insider
  • During a recent trip to Venice, Italy, I was surprised by how quiet its iconic tourist sites were.

  • Many historically popular locations including St Mark's Square were calm and pleasant to visit.

  • The improved tourist experience seemed to be thanks to city officials who were present throughout Venice.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

I spent a week in the Italian city of Venice, mainly reporting on the 78th Venice film festival for Insider.

A picture of the Palazzo del Cinema.
The Palazzo del Cinema, one of the Venice Film Festival hubs and screening buildings. Insider

During my time in the city, however, I managed to see some of the famous sites, and I was shocked by how calm everything was. This picture was taken at the height of a Saturday afternoon at the famously busy Piazza San Marco

St Mark's Basilica in Piazza San Marco. Insider

There were also no busy crowds outside of Doge's Palace - one of Venice's popular tourist sites.

Piazza San Marco.
Doge's Palace, one of Venice's oldest and most famous buildings. Insider

And most of the City's famous shopping districts were also pretty tame but remained convivial.

A shopping quarter of San Marco. Insider

Even some of the city's popular canal spots were a lot less busy.

A canal in Castello, Venice. Insider

As were some of the locations away from the historically popular tourist sites like here in San Polo.

Campo San Polo. Insider

This made navigating Venice's historically tight walkways a lot less daunting - particularly as COVID-19 remains a risk.

A near-deserted alleyway in Venice. Insider

I initially wondered whether tourists had largely avoided the city this summer with cases of the Delta variant rising. But attendance at the film festival was high. Every morning I was plagued by long security lines at the festival entrance.

One of the entrances to the Venice film festival. Insider

After a while, however, I began to frequently notice the presence of armed police officers around popular tourist locations.

Armed police officers in St Mark's Square. Insider

Armed police were also accompanied by local officials in "#EnjoyRespectVenice" t-shirts, and it became clear that together they were successfully regulating the flow of tourists moving large groups along, and providing directions.

A city official on Rialto Bridge. Insider

Although the city itself was less crowded, the queues to enter popular locations like Saint Mark's Basilica remained busy.

The long queue to enter St Mark's Basilica. Insider.

And so did the queues for the perfect selfie at the City's most Instagram-friendly spots.

The tourist scrum for a selfie on Rialto Bridge. Insider

For the first time ever, I can't wait to go back to Italy.

A picture from the Rialto Bridge.
The view from Rialto Bridge. Insider

Now, the big question: did I enjoy the visit?

Yes, I did. There really is no credible challenge to Venice's claim to being Europe's most beautiful city. For me, however, it has traditionally also been one of the most deeply uncomfortable places to visit on the continent, largely down to the widely reported issues of overcrowding.

Earlier this year, it was reported that officials in the "floating city" are readying two strategies to curb overcrowding. First, the introduction of a tourist "reservation" system where visitors to the city pay an entrance fee in an attempt to curb overcrowding. And secondly, the deployment of armed guards to patrol key tourist hubs to keep crowds under control, which I have briefly outlined above.

To me, both of these suggestions are undesirable. The increased presence of armed officers has obvious and deeply concerning carceral implications, and any entrance fee to the city would effectively act as a tax on visiting one of Europe's most culturally enriching locations. But what became clear to me during my trip is that whatever magic Venice has to offer can only be absorbed when one isn't trapped in a scrum of camera-wielding tourists.

More police and entrance fee: bad.

Less crowding: good.

What's the middle ground here? I'm not sure but I hope the city of Venice can figure it out.

Read the original article on Insider

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