An attraction for centuries
The uniqueness of this Italian city has made it a worldwide attraction for centuries. And, tellingly, Venice’s rise as a travel destination coincided with its decline as an economic powerhouse, said Ezio Micelli, an expert of urban transformation at Iuav University of Venice.
As a city-state, Venice thrived as a commercial and financial hub for much of the Middle Ages. Its location midway between Constantinople and Western Europe made it an ideal junction for the trade of spices, silk and salt. “It was the capital of capitalism,” Mr. Micelli said.
But as the center of trade moved from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, Venice lost centrality and by the end of the 18th century, when it fell under foreign rule, its decline was unstoppable. It was then that wealthy Europeans started visiting Italy’s art-rich cities, including Venice, in a tradition known as “the Grand Tour.” Lord Byron and Stendhal were among the city’s earliest holidaymakers. By the 19th century, Venice’s Lido became the place of pilgrimage for Europe’s well-off bourgeoise (think of Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”).
But by the late 20th century, Venice became what economists describe as a “tourism monoculture,” borrowing the term from the risky agricultural practice of growing a single crop.