VENICE (AFP) - Several hundred citizens of Venice rallied on Saturday (Nov 12) to draw attention to an exodus of residents that they fear is sucking the life out of the fabled Italian city.
Venetians of all ages took part in the "Venexodus" demonstration, clutching signs such as "Farewell, Venice," and "I won't go, I will stay and resist," as well as suitcases to symbolise the constant departures.
A man dressed in the historic costume of a doge - the leaders of Venice for more than a thousand years - boarded a gondola to make a symbolic farewell trip from the revered city.
More than 60,000 tourists arrive in Venice each day - a tally that now dwarfs the city's full-time residents.
"Venice is losing 1,000 residents each year. It now has less than 55,000 people, compared to 100,000 40 years ago - the danger is very great," said Matteo Secchi, head of the association venessia.com which organised the rally.
Secchi drew a comparison with Pompeii - the preserved Roman town that the volcano Vesuvius destroyed in AD79.
"We are turning into Pompei, a town which people come to visit and say it's magnificent, but no-one lives there," Secchi told AFP.
"Venetians are not against tourists. It's right for tourists to visit Venice, but it is also right for its inhabitants to be able to be live there. The challenge is to reconcile these two different worlds."
One of Venetians' biggest complaints is about housing. The cost of accommodation has rocketed, as private owners rent out apartments for short-term lets.
Another gripe is about the lack of job diversity.
"Many of my friends have had to leave the city, not just because of housing problems but also because the only work here is in tourism," said Marco Vidal, a 35-year-old Venetian.
"If you have training in a different field, you are obliged to leave. The local authorities gave up years ago the idea of encouraging people to live in Venice, creating jobs and making it a city with a future, rather than an amusement park."
A delegation of demonstrators was received by the city hall and said later they were encouraged by what had been said.