The residents of Venice, Italy -- one of the most beautiful cities on earth and a perennially popular destination for tourists -- are used to the crush of visitors who are attracted to its romantic charms.
However, what they are not prepared for are the arrival of giant cruise-ships that they believe threatens to ruin the city’s medieval ambience that has excited and enticed travelers for centuries.
BBC reported that Venetians are appalled by the increasingly frequent arrivals of massive cruise vessels – some of which can bring as many as 30,000 people in just one day – which loom over their fair and fragile hamlet.
Some locals have even started to protest against the presence of these monstrous ships. One activist in a small craft shouted through a bullhorn at a cruise-liner: "You are too big! You must go away from our city! Venice doesn't want you! Venice doesn't like you! Go away!"
Silvio Testa, a spokesman for the anti-cruise ship campaign, told BBC: "I can't stand the cruise ship business. It's the most evident demonstration of the vulgar exploitation of my city.”
Testa added that part of the fault is with Venice city officials who have made the town too accessible to too many tourists.
"The beauty of Venice is undoubted. But the city pays for it like a prostitute that is too beautiful,” he said.
"To see that the sophisticated city of my childhood has become Disneyland, full of bad quality souvenirs, makes me sick in the stomach. And these ships are the representation of the nightmare that Venice is living through."
Testa also fears that the ships may eventually damage Venice’s delicate canals and buildings.
Similarly, an official with Italia Nostra, an organization that seeks to protect Italy’s historical and cultural treasures, complained: "It's as if Venice, for most people, is an asset that has to be exploited. A cash cow to be milked until there's nothing left."
In response, the managing director of the port where the cruise-liners dock, Roberto Perocchio, defended the presence of the cruise-liners, citing that they pass by very quickly and also observe the European Union’s strict regulations on air pollution emissions.
"Of course everything has been carefully inspected… in order to be sure the water movement -- the very slow and soft water movement produced by the ships passing by -- would have the same intensity as the natural tide of the lagoon of Venice," he said.
Perocchio also lauded the cruise-line industry (and tourism as whole) for the economic benefits they impart to the region.
For example, each ship pays €150,000 in exchange for services provided when it docks. Moreover, cruises have directly created about 3,000 local jobs, he claimed.
"The city has lived [through] very poor times in the early 1950s and 1960s, and I would say that the majority of Venetians are proud of this economy," he added.
While the Italian government may seek to impose new restrictions on the presence of the huge vessels in and around Venice, what is clear is that tourists will continue to pour into the city.
Venice attracts some 22-million visitors each year (for a city of only about 60,000 residents) and these figures keep climbing.
In the summer months, tourists sometime outnumber Venetians by a 20-to-1 ratio, raising fears that the city has lost its identity and become a target of exploitation for the tourist industry.
Given the economic crisis Italy has become ensnared in, it is doubtful Rome will do anything to actually reduce the number of tourists that Venice receives.
The Epoch Times reported that Venetians are so tired of tourists that many are leaving the city.
“I lived here as a child in the 1970s. There were 30,000 to 40,000 inhabitants and a lot less tourists. It was a real city. The tourists were marginal -- now we (residents) have become marginal,” said Matteo Secchi, the leader of a protest group called Venessia.com.
“[To] the people who live here, this is not Disneyland. We are living a paradox. With more and more tourists, trade has transformed. The shoemaker closes, the grocery store closes, the hardware store closes … so we’re in trouble.”
Venetians have long complained about the huge numbers of tourists that descend upon the city like a plague.
Last summer, Italian Nostra warned that Venice can only accommodate about 33,000 visitors per day (it gets at least 60,000 daily) and that continued tourism will destroy the lagoon and lead to irreversible environmental catastrophe.
“Venice is really under threat. We must find a balance between immediate needs and the future to ensure sustainable development,' said Alessandra Mottola Molfino, head of Italia Nostra.