Venice natives relieved as city avoids UNESCO heritage danger list

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Residents of the Italian canal city of Venice breathed a deep sigh of relief when they learned that their city had avoided a spot on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) list of World Heritage sites in danger.

Meeting in Fuzhou, China, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee announced on Thursday that it would not put Venice on the list, which would have brought the city closer to losing its recognition as a World Heritage site.

The city's status was cast in doubt based on worries that the Italian government was doing too little to protect its substantial cultural, artistic and architectural riches.

The presence of large cruise ships in Venice Lagoon was a major cause for such worries because of the environmental impacts and potential damage they have already caused to the infrastructure of a city built on 118 separate islands.

Earlier this month, the Italian government said ships weighing more than 25,000 tons and measuring more than 180 meters (590 feet) would be banned from Venice's St. Mark's Basin, the Giudecca Canal and the surrounding areas starting Aug. 1.

In a statement issued after the UNESCO announcement, Italy's Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini said the decision to ban the large cruise ships was the main reason Venice avoided a spot on the "danger list," though he called for continued diligence in protecting the city.

"The global attention on Venice must remain high, and it is everyone's duty to work for the protection of the lagoon and to identify a path for sustainable development in this unique city," Franceschini said. "This is an ongoing process."

Locals welcomed the UNESCO decision.

"Venice would be Venice either way but it would have been a big, symbolic blow for the city to lose its status as a World Heritage site," Valeria Minghetti, a resident of the city, told Xinhua.

"As it worked out it's positive because we avoid an embarrassing development and we have a reminder that we have to protect the city we love," said Minghetti, also the chief researcher at the Center for International Studies on the Economics of Tourism at Ca' Foscari University in Venice.

Alessia Zingardi, 39, a native of Venice working in Rome as an art history teacher, said residents of her home city were relieved to learn of UNESCO's decision.

"When we saw the reports that Venice risked being on the (danger) list, my friends and family insisted they were not worried, that Venice was too iconic to lose its UNESCO status," Zingardi told Xinhua. "But then, when everyone heard that fate was avoided, they all let out a big sigh of relief."

Though the conclusion of the UNESCO meeting in China was positive for Venice, it does not mean the city is in the clear. UNESCO said it would reevaluate Venice's status in 2023.

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