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Venice to stage its own funeral

Remaining natives aim to stem population decline

12 November, 14:39
Venice to stage its own funeral (ANSA) - Venice, November 12 - Venice residents are to stage a mock funeral for the city Saturday to highlight the drastic shrinking of its native population.

Three gondolas will escort a red coffin along famed canals in a symbolic lament for the once-flourishing city's decline.

In the 1950s there were some 300,000 native Venetians but the latest surveys say the population has shrunk to 60,000.

People aren't scared the city is sinking but have been fleeing to cheaper and more liveable local towns, experts say. There has been a rising tourist influx that has pushed up consumer prices and a spike in property values that has seen wealthier outsiders buy second homes there.

One of the organisers of Saturday's funeral, pharmacist Andrea Morelli, thinks the event may make Venetians fonder of their roots and more likely to stay.

"Who knows, it could even spur a rebirth," he said, standing at a population ticker he installed outside his pharmacy, which recently dropped below the 60,000 mark.

"We have to create a Venice new residents will want to stay in".

According to the US newsmagazine Newsweek, there may not be a single 'trueborn' Venetian left there by 2030.

The city has taken strong measures in recent years to reduce the impact of an estimated 55,000 daily tourists, most of them in-and-out backpackers.

They have been barred from misbehaving, eating in historic piazzas and going around bare-chested.

The city council has also considered entry fees.

At the end of August officials said it would take ''drastic'' new moves to curb the daily tourist influx that is driving residents away.

''There's a physical threshold you can't go over,'' councillor Enrico Mingardi said.

Venice has just been through another summer of throngs of backpackers and other one-day tourists jamming the city's narrow streets and packing waterboats.

Venice dwellers ''can no longer stand these disruptions,'' Mingardi said, proposing that only those with overnight bookings should be let in.

He said the city council would thrash out restrictive measures with residents' groups and tourist associations.

But retailers' and hotels' interests are often in conflict with those of home-owners, observers say.

In recent years struggling businesses have been charging residents the same prices they used to just hit tourists with, they say.

In conjunction with Saturday's funeral, an American research group will take DNA samples from male volunteers with at least one grandparent born in Venice.

The aim is to trace the roots of the Venetians and their subsequent expansion across a maritime empire that once ruled much of the eastern Mediterranean.

The team, from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, also aims to figure out where the ancient Venetian tribes originally came from.

This is believed to be somewhere in eastern Europe.

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