Visit Venice and it feels like you’re time traveling. As you walk along narrow passageways, stroll over the tiny bridges with echoes of life surrounding you, it’s easy to feel like you’ve stepped into ages long past. Venice is unsurprisingly among top attractions when it comes to Italy tours as well as for independent travelers. However a glance towards the ocean expecting to see light refracted water, tiny boats and islands in the distance can be fractured if it’s blocked by a gargantuan cruise ship. This has been happening repeatedly over the past decade until a temporary ban was imposed. For a city so dependent on tourism, the effects are still in being widely considered.

Considerations when you plan your Venice cruise

The view of St. Mark’s Square from one of these ‘skyscrapers of the sea’ must be breathtaking. Breathing however is one of the concerns for the health of the city. According to several reports and articles, corrosive smog is a threat to the medieval buildings and it comes from many sources related to modern living. Stronger arguments for Venice have been raised about the effect of cruise ship vibrations on the foundations of the centuries-old buildings.

Sinking Venice palace.

Sinking Venetian palace. Photo: Deborah Aloi via Trover

Venice is constructed on a delta making tides and sea levels important concerns. Fresh water was originally brought in at great cost and risk from surrounding mountains. Later huge cisterns were built below plazas. Those same cisterns regularly flood during the late fall with particularly large storms and dangerous winds. The ‘Acqua alta,’ notorious high tides, have become a part of Venetian life annually. With rising sea levels and natural settling Venice has sunk over nine inches during the past century and continues to sink.

If you’ve watched children playing in a sandbox puddle you can see how quickly shaking causes mud to liquefy and settle. That may be an influence in Venice as ships over ninety-six thousand gross tons pull through the ancient Guidecca Canal en route to the main cruise terminal.

Another route has been proposed that brings the big ships along commercial shipping lanes until they turn across the bay towards Venice proper. Environmentalists decry the proposal and want the ships banned altogether. Italian authorities (Tribunale Amministrativo Regionale) have sided with the tourism interests and lifted the ban on cruise ships. They now allow five smaller ships (40,000 tons) to dock daily.

St. Mark's Square. Venice.

The crowds in Saint Mark’s Square, Venice. Photo: Club DMS via Trover

The reversal may be moot and the tempest has another year to brew. Even with the ban lifted, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents 53 major cruise lines, is steering clear of Venice throughout 2015.

Is it a boon for smaller ships and river cruises? Should visitors fly into Venice and avoid cruising? One thing is for certain, the city is much loved. Visitors will always find a way to stroll the squares and ride the gondolas; eating and drinking and enjoying the art events and Carnivale. One day long from now rising sea levels may claim the last of the structures and Venice will continue as a scuba diver’s dream location.

Do you think the big cruise ships should return to dock in Venice?

Research for this post came from The Telegraph in Great Britain, Rick Steves and Scripps Institute of Oceanography UCSD.