Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Venice, the Tourist Maze

Venice, the Tourist Maze: A Cultural Critique of the World’s Most Touristed City

Robert C. Davis
Garry R. Marvin
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 372
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Venice, the Tourist Maze
    Book Description:

    "The tourist VeniceisVenice," Mary McCarthy once observed-a sentiment very much in line with what most of the fourteen million tourists who visit the city each year experience, but at the same time a painful reality for the 65,000 Venetians who actually live there. Venice is viewed from a new perspective in this engaging book, which offers a heady, one-city tour of tourism itself. Conducting readers from the beginnings of Venetian tourism in the late Middle Ages to its emergence as a form of mass entertainment in our time, the authors explore what happens when today's "industrial tourism" collides with an ancient and ever-more-fragile culture. Giving equal consideration to those who tour Venice and those who live there, their book affords rare insight into just what it is that the touring and the toured see, experience, and elicit from each other.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93780-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Note to Readers
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. INTRODUCTION. The City Built on the Sea
    (pp. 1-8)

    Tourism, as every economist knows, is big business, arguably the biggest in the world today: the latest figures from the Secretariat of the World Tourism Organization suggest that the 664 million international arrivals worldwide in 1999 spent something on the order of $455 billion. Tourism is also the life and life’s blood of Venice, Italy, and more than once, while sitting in Piazza San Marco on an August afternoon‚ we have felt like the better part of those 664 million travelers were passing right before our eyes. Venice may well be, for its size and population, the most touristed city...


    • CHAPTER 1 Pilgrims’ Rest
      (pp. 11-29)

      As one of the most scenic and most touristed places in the world, Venice has, perhaps inevitably, inspired a number of scholarly and general studies on its place in the history of tourism. These have been alive to the city’s impact on the imaginations and fantasies of foreigners, and aware of the many levels on which it has captivated its admirers. Yet such works for the most part have also been limited in two significant ways. First, they have dealt for the most part with only one, relatively circumscribed aspect of tourism to Venice, the so-called Grand Tour—that leisurely...

    • CHAPTER 2 Strumpets and Trumps
      (pp. 30-52)

      Sometime around the end of the 1500s, the tourist sector in Venice—which already had been doing quite well a century earlier—entered a phase of prodigious growth. Changing intellectual attitudes, a spreading desire for useful experience, and more disposable wealth in Germany, Holland, France, and, above all, England made travel fashionable for the wealthy. This especially meant travel to Italy, and over the course of the next two centuries a new species of visitor-for-pleasure came south by the tens of thousands. These so-called Grand Tourists followed an increasingly set route that brought them south in time for the opening...


    • CHAPTER 3 The Heart of the Matter
      (pp. 55-78)

      The heart of tourist Venice is Saint Mark’s Square, the Piazza San Marco (see map 1). “Tourists flock here in the thousands every year,” boasts a recent guidebook to the city, and far from exaggerating, this greatly understates the case. It is a safe assumption that, at the time of this writing, at least twelve million visitors pass through and around this two-acre spot every year: “a tidal wave that no one is capable of quantifying, because, despite the flourishing of organizations and groups that concern themselves with tourism, nobody . . . has updated data on who comes.”¹ To...

    • CHAPTER 4 Lost in the Labyrinth
      (pp. 79-104)

      Venice does not, of course, begin and end with Piazza San Marco, and sooner or later most tourists leave the big square and venture out into the city at large. What they find when they do is a Venice that is very different than the monumental center grouped around the Piazza, a much more low-key city but also an extremely complex one, a confusing maze made up of twin grids of alleys and waterways seemingly laid down without the slightest regard for sense or reason. Many tourists think Venice outside of San Marco is both baffling and somewhat unnerving, even...

    • CHAPTER 5 Contested Ground
      (pp. 105-130)

      Recent campaigns to entice tourists into Venice’s back streets have been motivated largely by the premise that it is desirable to relieve pressure on the city’s overcrowded core around Piazza San Marco and the Rialto, and that this is an obvious way to do it. As it happens, such moves have not been especially successful. Most visitors are in Venice for too short a time to see much of the city anyway and are unwilling to pass up its most famous central monuments to spend their brief stay looking at some lesser-known attractions. In any case, no matter how many...


    • CHAPTER 6 The Floating Signifier
      (pp. 133-159)

      Tourists come to Venice because, above all, the city is built on water—and sometimes they are surprised at just how much water they see. What has by now become the classic entrance into Venice is all water: a drive or a train ride takes one across the Lagoon on the Ponte della Libertà and then the Linea 1vaporettocompletes the trip, down the length of the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco. Passengers on the Linea 1 marvel, as tourists to Venice have done for centuries, at how the buildings of the city “go right down into the...

    • CHAPTER 7 Behind the Stage
      (pp. 160-180)

      Beyond and all around Venice lie the islands of the Venetian Lagoon, scattered across the 250 square miles, or 55,000 hectares, of marshes and open waters that stretch from Chioggia in the south to the fens and fish farms up north (see map 4). When seen in satellite photos, Venice is the cluster of islands shaped like a fish—a red fish, thanks to its tile roofs—swimming west just above the midpoint of this watery waste. Venice still is, as it has been called for centuries, La Dominante, the dominant fish in this school. The other islands are by...

    • CHAPTER 8 Dangerous Waters
      (pp. 181-208)

      We were once lounging on one of the little docks that stick out a short distance into Venice’s Grand Canal, watching the traffic go by and enjoying the sun, when we heard a shriek. From a nearby gondola, just emerging from an inner canal out onto the open waters, came the voice of an American mother berating her young son: she had just caught him dragging his hand in the water, as boys will do: “I told you, don’t ever do that! I told you this water is filthy! People poop in it! Think of the diseases you could catch!...


    • CHAPTER 9 Restoration Comedies
      (pp. 211-236)

      For its size and population, Venice probably suffers from more physical problems than any other city: this is one of the few world heritage sites that perpetually runs the risk of vanishing completely. Having been investigated for decades, Venice’s travails are well known, even if all their precise causes are still under some debate. One problem is subsidence, which was catastrophic in the 1950s and 1960s, as mainland industries freely drained the local water table for their uses. Even since the practice was banned, the town has continued to sink simply because its buildings are so heavy—this is a...

    • CHAPTER 10 Ships and Fools
      (pp. 237-260)

      For centuries Venice has been called the Most Beautiful City in the World, a title that can make one forget that not all the attractions it offers are strictly physical. Generations of visitors have gone there to bask in the reflected glow of the place’s palaces, churches,campi, and canals, but they have also sought out (or had thrust upon them) other allures, including elaborate, sacro-civic processions; music, theater, and opera; the Carnival; boat races, bull-baitings, and boxing matches; and a host of other attractions, both high and low. Though all these cultural productions can be found elsewhere in the...

    • CHAPTER 11 Taking It All Home
      (pp. 261-292)

      At the end of the day—usually quite literally—Venice’s millions of tourists have to leave. Knowing that they have to go, most of them seek out something to take home from the city—a reaction seemingly universal among tourists and deeply rooted in their relationship to this or any other tourist site. Venice itself cannot be taken home, but there are aspects of the Venice experience that can be carried off, and in this impulse two orientations are at work: one toward the present, which tries to preserve the immediacy of the gaze, the actual experience of the place;...

  11. AFTERWORD. Chi ciapa schei xe contento
    (pp. 293-300)

    In mid-July 2003, after an absence of several years, we returned to Venice for a short visit. While there, we had lunch with an old friend, a professor at the University of Venice whose observations have appeared several times in this work. This time, he noted how increasingly difficult it was for Venetians to make their way around within the triangle of the city marked out by San Marco, the Rialto, and the Accademia. He called this area Venice’s “Bermuda Triangle,” which caused us to laugh, since earlier in this book we had referred to it as the city’s Bermuda-Shorts...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 301-334)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 335-344)
  14. Index
    (pp. 345-360)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 361-361)