Venetians are a proud lot. Proud of their city, their history and their centuries-old traditions. And rightly so. Venice is beautiful and deserves to be loved and looked after. So while The Clooneys were (probably) having a lie-in after their celebrity wedding last weekend, over a dozen groups of locals, students and lovers of Venice were out first thing armed with paintbrushes, rubber gloves and toolboxes ready for a spot of DIY – well that is what Sunday mornings were invented for isn’t it?!
National Cleaning Day is an initiative promoted nationally by the Associazione Antigraffitti (Association against Graffitti) with Venice’s day organised by the Associazione Masegni & Nizioleti, a group of volunteers with a passion for taking care of the old city. Other clean up initiatives also take place up and down the country promoted by environmental campaigners Legambiente but this was a day organised by Venetians for Venice.
And the initiative really seemed to have caught the imagination of locals this year with volunteers working on a wide range of projects to clean up the city.
Initiatives included –
- painting over graffiti on walls around San Polo and on the Rialto Bridge
- removing lovelocks from bridges around the city
- clearing rubbish from the canals
- clearing rubbish, especially plastic bottles, from the beaches and interior of Poveglia island before celebrating with a huge family picnic
- clearing rubbish from the islands of Certosa & Torcello
It may surprise you to hear that there are still thousands of Venetians living here ready to defend the city against chronic underfunding and the onslaught of 23 million visitors every year. But Venice is not a theme park or an overblown shopping centre just yet. And Venetians are keen to stop the deterioration of their beloved city and the fragile environment of the lagoon before it is too late.
So, as a lover of the city, I decided to join in with the clean up, helping one of the groups, WSM, removing lovelocks from the bridges around Cannareggio.
Lovelocks – the idea of attaching a padlock to a bridge then launching the key into the water to signifiy everlasting love – are becoming a real problem in Venice and around the world and risk damaging historic bridges.
A dozen of us spent the morning removing hundreds of padlocks left by tourists on the bridges along Strada Nova, Cannareggio and down to the Accademia Bridge in San Marco where the paparazzi were waiting to snap The Clooneys returning to their Giudecca island hotel.
We removed so many locks that it took two men to carry them over the bridges to the recycling skip! That’s what I call a good day’s work!! But think of the damage that their weight would be doing to fragile old bridges if left attached.
As a more long-term way to combat lovelocks, Venetians have also started the Unlock Your Love campaign group calling for couples to share a kiss and take a photo on Venice’s bridges as a memento instead of attaching a padlock. It’s still early days but hopefully the message will get through, especially now the City Council has introduced a €50 fine for anyone attaching a lovelock to any of the city’s bridge or historical monuments. For now, though, as long as the padlocks keep appearing Venetians will keep on removing them so the padlocks aren’t quite the everlasting symbol of love that tourists think they are!!
Like most other groups participating in the clean up day, WSM, which stands for Viva San Marco (Long Live St Mark), the motto of Venice, promotes respect and dignity for Venice campaigning against the degradation and abuse of the city by politicians, tourists and inconsiderate locals.
And just as in Barcelona last month, they led a large peaceful, apolitical march to highlight the need to combat the physical decay of the city plus the recent deterioration in the behaviour of visitors.
Around 2000 Venetians of all ages took to the streets singing local songs and calling for greater respect for Venice’s history and traditions, a cut in crime and an end to illegal street vendors selling fake designer handbags and sunglasses and blocking streets and bridges.
So as you can see from Venice’s Cleaning Day and the recent march, pride in the city still runs deep. And while groups continue to campaign individually on various topics, the day was clearly a great success in bringing everyone together to protect and repair the city we love. Over the day 70-odd large bags of rubbish were removed from Poveglia island alone, hundreds of lovelocks were cut off bridges across the city and several walls were cleaned of graffiti. The sad thing is that padlocks have already started to re-appear just a week after the clean-up so this is a battle which looks set to run and run. But we can all do our part to keep Venice free of graffiti, garbage and gratuitous lovelocks. If you’re travelling this year make sure you’re part of the solution, not part of the problem.
National Cleaning Day – 28th September 2014
Associazione Masegni & Nizioleti website – http://www.masegni.org
Other useful websites
Legambiente website – http://www.legambiente.it
Clean up the World website – http://www.cleanuptheworld.org/en/
Tips on how to be a considerate & responsible tourist
- don’t leave love-locks – there is a €50 fine in Venice so beware!
- respect the laws and by-laws of the city you are visiting
- respect the local dress code – in Venice this means men must not go topless, everyone must wear footwear, women should not wear bikinis in the city (only at the beach) and shoulders and knees should be covered when visiting churches etc
- respect the local environment – in Venice this means no bathing or swimming in the canals, no sleeping rough and no peeing in streets
- take pictures not “souvenirs” from historic sites
- leave only footprints, not litter, offence or damage
Edited Sunday 5th October to confirm that this day was promoted by the Associazione Antigraffiti and organized locally by the Associazione Masegni & Nizioleti.