VENICE • The floating city of Venice is facing a threat of being sunk by too many day-trippers.
The soundtrack of the city is now the wheels of luggage thumping up against the steps of footbridges as tourists march over its canals.
Snippets of Venetian dialect can still be heard between the gondoliers rowing selfie-snapping couples. But the lingua franca is a mash-up of English, Mandarin and whatever other tongue the mega cruise ships and low-cost flights have delivered that morning.
Italian officials, lamenting what they call "low-quality tourism", are considering limiting the numbers of tourists who can enter the city or its landmark piazzas.
"If you arrive on a big ship, get off, you've two or three hours, follow someone holding a flag to Piazzale Roma, Ponte di Rialto and San Marco and turn around," said Mr Dario Franceschini, Italy's culture minister, who lamented the "Eat and Flee" brand of tourism.
"The beauty of Italian towns is not only the architecture, but it's also the actual activity of the place, the stores, the workshops," he added. "We need to save its identity."
Local residents feel inundated by the 20 million or so tourists each year. Stores have taken to putting signs on the windows showing the direction to St Mark's Square or Ponte di Rialto, so people will stop coming in to ask for help.
The majority of the anxiety has centred on the cruise ships that pass through the Grand Canal, blotting out the landmarks like an eclipse blocking out the sun.
Some of the about 50,000 Venetians, down from about 175,000 in 1951, have organised associations against the invasion, selling T-shirts that show cruise boats with shark teeth threatening fishermen.
In June, almost all the 18,000 Venetians who voted in an unofficial referendum on the cruise ships said they wanted them out.
But the ships bring in money, and as Venice is not the trading power of yore, it needs all the euros it can get. The ships also create jobs, benefiting mechanics, waiters and water taxis.
Many local residents live in the Castello section of the city, far enough from San Marco Square to enjoy a semblance of normal life.
"If you want to get some prosciutto (ham), you can't because the salumeria (retail store) is gone," said Mr Tommaso Mingati, 41, of what have come and gone in Venice.
His family kept a small apartment in Venice, but like most former residents, had moved out to Mestre, the mainland section that no one has ever called Queen of the Adriatic.
But on one weekend a year, during the Feast of the Redeemer in July, the Venetians strike back and take back the city. They flow back in from Mestre to drink wine on the banks of the Grand Canal and wait for a fireworks show.
This year, the celebration coincided with the Venice Biennale, which draws thousands of globe-trotting visitors to Venice to check out the latest in art, dance and theatre.