Join 3,555 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Bridge of Signs
October 4, 2011 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Most people know that Venice has long been threatened by chronic flooding, but in recent years the Queen of the Adriatic has faced a rising tide of a different sort: advertising. From the Doge's Palace to St. Mark's Square to the bittersweet Bridge of Sighs -- named for the grief its splendid views once inspired in crossing death row prisoners -- immense billboards lit late into the night now mar the city's most treasured places. Allegedly built to cover the cost of restoration work in the face of government cutbacks, the ads have brought in around $600,000 per year since 2008 -- a fraction of the shortfall -- and show no sign of going away any time soon. Their presence prompted a consortium of the world's leading cultural experts led by the Venice in Peril Fund to air an open letter demanding the city government put a stop to the placards that "hit you in the eye and ruin your experience of one of the most beautiful creations of humankind." Mayor Giorgio Orsoni, for one, was not moved, saying last year "If people want to see the building they should go home and look at a picture of it in a book."
posted by Rhaomi (59 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
The doges, as callous and uncharitable as ever...
posted by michaelh at 10:43 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hah, forgot the [more inside]. Have some extra links, on the house:
Another photo of the now-pitiful Bridge of Sighs

Venice stages its own funeral to mourn population decline

Why are Venetians fleeing, anyway? It's not due to flooding...

Troubled waters: Paintings show Venice in decline

"Venezia" by flapjax at midnite
posted by Rhaomi at 10:43 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here I foolishly thought that Venice liked tourism dollars/euro/yen/pounds. Do you seriously want to cover up some of your most beautiful sights in fucking advertisements? Isn't the damage to tourism going to vastly exceed a modest boost in revenues from the ads themselves?

I can only speak for myself - I'll probably be in Europe in late winter or early Spring this year, for work, and I'll probably take some time to play tourist. But why, in a continent full of beautiful old things to go see, would I pay money to go look at a bunch of huge Gucci ads? Fuck that for a game of soldiers.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:44 AM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I must have been just lucky enough to miss these. I visited Venice in 2008, and looking at these linked pictures just makes me sad. I can't imagine going there now and not expecting this, because it would be a shock.
posted by aclevername at 10:47 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the Venetians don't want to display their famous artworks, they could always just give them back to the various places they were stolen from.
posted by Copronymus at 10:51 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


St. Mark's Square with that huge ad on it makes it look a lot like the faux one (Venetian casino) in Las Vegas. If it's going to be all cheesed up, why go visit?
posted by pointystick at 10:53 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, that.. uh, that's some overt space usage.
posted by odinsdream at 10:55 AM on October 4, 2011


Here I foolishly thought that Venice liked tourism dollars/euro/yen/pounds. Do you seriously want to cover up some of your most beautiful sights in fucking advertisements?

They're covering them up anyway for the restoration. The ads will come down when the restoration is over.
posted by empath at 10:55 AM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Another photo of the now-pitiful Bridge of Sighs

If I didn't know it was an actual atrocity, I would think it's conceptual art.
posted by The World Famous at 10:57 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The fake Venice is now more 'real' than the real Venice. Umberto Eco will have a field day.

They're covering them up anyway for the restoration. The ads will come down when the restoration is over.

That's what I thought. At least the ads are somewhat site-appropriate. In a cheesy sort of way.
posted by Conductor71 at 10:58 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


put a stop to the placards that "hit you in the eye..."

"Like a big pizza pie from Pizza Hut, only 100 meters from this palazzo!"
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:59 AM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


The World Famous: " If I didn't know it was an actual atrocity, I would think it's conceptual art."

Oh man, this one's even worse: see if you can find the centuries-old landmark!

empath: "They're covering them up anyway for the restoration. The ads will come down when the restoration is over."

It's like the War on Terror -- this is Venice, the restoration work will never be fully complete.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:59 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


It was hard to visualize prisoners walking across the bridge sighing to themselves while looking at larger than life ads for name brand items.

I sighed just looking at the fucking picture. The name is still appropriate, though perhaps not in the way originally intended.
posted by Hylas at 11:00 AM on October 4, 2011


They're covering them up anyway for the restoration. The ads will come down when the restoration is over.

Good point. And it makes this much less depressing.
posted by aclevername at 11:00 AM on October 4, 2011


I was in Venice in the summer of 2010 and it really is a disgrace to the city to see most of the famous/important/timeless places be covered up by advertisements. It was my first time there, and it really does mess up the experience of admiring art and architecture if you have to also look at big pictures of butts in tight jeans and of models promoting perfume...
posted by CrazyLemonade at 11:02 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was in Venice about a year ago, and I don't remember any commercial advertising--Gucci, Coca-Cola--on the construction scaffolding, only ads for upcoming events at the museums. Maybe we just got lucky (or maybe we spent so much time huddled under umbrellas that we missed the truly tacky stuff).

The ads around the Bridge of Sighs, though, are just appalling. I mean, I get that they're temporary, but as-is, the millions of visitors who will pay umpteen Euro for a gondola ride under it would be better off enjoying Las Vegas.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:02 AM on October 4, 2011


I just got back from Italy, a 3-week trip of which 4 days was spent in Venice.

The city is, indeed, pretty fucking touristy, and the Bridge of Sighs is definitely plastered with L'Oreal ads right now. That said, there are also many interesting things to be done and interesting places to be in Venice that don't involve the Piazza San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale. They have been tourist traps par excellence for a long, long time; the fact that they are now overtly so is in some ways preferable. I spent a couple of extremely enjoyable afternoons watching life happen (kids playing on a set-up but currently-unused stage in the middle of the piazza; moms and dads chatting happily; grandpa sitting and smiling from the cafe) in this square, and Venice's uniquely pedestrian-friendly situation was a relief from the constant noise and worry of cars. Venetian food is lovely and subtle; the Rialto market is a great place to get some fruit and veg and a bit of fresh fish (assuming you have a place to cook it; we did).

I'm a little saddened that the ads are so overt, but frankly if it gets more people interested in the parts of Venice that are still real, so much the better - right?
posted by Fraxas at 11:05 AM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


That is some pretty hideous advertising.
posted by buzzman at 11:06 AM on October 4, 2011


If the Venetians don't want to display their famous artworks, they could always just give them back to the various places they were stolen from.

Do you mean to the Hippodrome of Constantinople? I think that particular barn door is closed.
posted by Iridic at 11:07 AM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Not just the horses, though. Much of St Mark's Cathedral was plundered from Constantinople.
posted by empath at 11:09 AM on October 4, 2011


Looks just like the highway from Gilliam's Brazil that is bordered on both sides by an unbroken line of billboards set end-to-end extending to the horizon.
posted by Babblesort at 11:09 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a little saddened that the ads are so overt, but frankly if it gets more people interested in the parts of Venice that are still real, so much the better - right?

No. It never was either-or.

We need to stop pimping our culture, our public spaces, our time and attention, to corporations that have all the money because we sold out every other value. There are other choices.
posted by namasaya at 11:17 AM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


It definitely reminds me of a dystopian video game. I kind of understand the sentiment from the mayor- it's supposed to be temporary- and who else is going to give them hundreds of thousands of dollars?

But geez oh man, even scaffolding doesn't look THAT ugly.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:19 AM on October 4, 2011


it really does mess up the experience of admiring art and architecture if you have to also look at big pictures of butts in tight jeans

I agree with you completely. But it's just sort of funny to think that looking of big pictures of butts messes up the experience of looking at old paintings of naked ladies.
posted by The World Famous at 11:19 AM on October 4, 2011


"Streets flooded. Please advise."
-- Robert Benchley, in a telegram to his New Yorker editor.
posted by timsteil at 11:21 AM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I had been to Venice a few years ago. Was told by a tour guy that he no longer could afford to live in the city because of very high rents, and that was true for many of the families he knows. Now the ads are to raise money to "fix" Venice, but Venice,a jewel, get lots of money from tourism. If the place becomes junkie, they will lose tourist money that may be significantly more than the ads generate. Can't this be evaluated somehow?
posted by Postroad at 11:33 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Much of St Mark's Cathedral was plundered from Constantinople.

Meh. That was just payback for the plunder of all the property of Venetian merchants back in the 12th Century, and the subsequent massacre of Venetians living in the city.

Don't dish it out if you can't take it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:44 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


That was just payback for the plunder of all the property of Venetian merchants back in the 12th Century, and the subsequent massacre of Venetians living in the city.

Which was payback for previous Italian raids of the Byzantine Empire.
posted by empath at 11:48 AM on October 4, 2011


I was in Venice, recently, and had a long conversation with a minor city official. He said that Venice was in a lot of trouble, especially with global warming beginning to raise sea levels. His sense was that sometime in the next few decades we might see tourists in the numbers that we currently see kept out of the city, except for "glass boat" forays that are carefully monitored.

I saw several ads like the ones under discussion; it's kind of sad to see this happening. The phenomenal duomo in Milano is also under "wraps". Thanks Madonna, NOT!

No problem having these institutions helped by large corporate money, and no problem having corporations taking public credit for that, but these corporate contributors ALWAYS want something back; they never give without taking something back, ever.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:51 AM on October 4, 2011


.

One of the things that has always stuck in my mind from visiting Venice circa 2000 is how unblemished by advertising it was, and how special it was to wander through street after street mostly unchanged since Venice's golden age. That's a rare experience, even by European standards.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:54 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Which was payback....

For more on this, start here (sorry, JSTOR) and here
posted by IndigoJones at 11:54 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I went to Italy in 1999, and it was much the same, minus the ads. Scaffolding over everything--they were renovating for the millennium, apparently. It pretty much ruined the experience.

Why does Italy find it necessary to do all at once projects that can be spread out over several years? It doesn't make any kind of logistical sense.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:58 AM on October 4, 2011


With all those smooth billboards, how is Ezio supposed to get enough grip to climb all the towers?
posted by lantius at 12:00 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Good point. And it makes this much less depressing.

Ads that cover the entire side of a bus and block the windows so you can barely see out of them are also "temporary." They're not any less depressing.
posted by blucevalo at 12:04 PM on October 4, 2011


I think that if the advertising industry thought they could get away with it, they'd tattoo advertising on the inside of my eyelids.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:10 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently they need the money. That is, I guess, not surprising nowadays. So: take up a collection. For every month that the collection brings in more than 40,000euro (that seems to be what the ads cost), hey presto, no ads.

If any particular month fails to bring in enough cash, the next month the ads go back up and the cash pot rolls over to try again. If Norman Foster et al are really that pissed, they should easily be able to afford a few months of clarity.

Yes, it's a form of extortion. However, this is what happens when taxes are insufficient. Things have to be paid for one way or another.
posted by aramaic at 12:12 PM on October 4, 2011


The most magical thing about Venice is that people actually live and work there. Increasing, that is no longer the case. Venice is for the living, Venetians don't want to live in a tomb and can't afford to live in a museum. It sucks that there's a McDonalds across from the entrace to the Pantheon in Rome and that Milan's great dome is covered in tarps, but it's worse to see a city die.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:13 PM on October 4, 2011


The pictures of the Bridge of Sighs immediately reminded me of this scene from Brazil. Uncanny.
posted by googly at 12:18 PM on October 4, 2011


Or, what Babblesort said.
posted by googly at 12:18 PM on October 4, 2011


Oliviero Toscani's Colors Magazine, prescient September 1999 Venice issue...
posted by progosk at 12:19 PM on October 4, 2011


pointystick: St. Mark's Square with that huge ad on it makes it look a lot like the faux one (Venetian casino) in Las Vegas. If it's going to be all cheesed up, why go visit?

That was my first thought on seeing the pictures, too. Hey, just like the Vegas version now!

Fraxas: The city is, indeed, pretty fucking touristy, and the Bridge of Sighs is definitely plastered with L'Oreal ads right now. That said, there are also many interesting things to be done and interesting places to be in Venice that don't involve the Piazza San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale.

Exactly. Such is the case with most destinations of interest: there are the Really Big Sights that everyone flocks to, and often there are a dozen more, just around the corner, or a few blocks away. My family went to Venice over a decade ago, but even then the key tourist destinations felt like show pieces amidst genuine history. My brother and I took a boat the wrong way, and ended up seeing a few small islands we wouldn't have seen otherwise. Those places felt a lot more genuine than the major sites, and there wasn't a constant crowd of people. It was a long day, and that feeling of being on a boat lasted for hours, but it was really great experience over-all.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:34 PM on October 4, 2011


Those giant billboards plastering everything are tragic but Venice didn't feel much like a living city to me even before their arrival. Yeah, there were pockets of life, but even those people who really lived in Venice mostly work in some kind of tourist related field. It was a giant museum. A giant touristy kitsch-filled urine-scented museum.

And yet they somehow managed to make it worse with these abominable billboards.
posted by Justinian at 12:38 PM on October 4, 2011


I'll pay extra for the app without the gaudy advertising, please.
posted by Steakfrites at 12:43 PM on October 4, 2011


My girlfriend and I were in Venice a year ago and saw these ads and 'cover-ups.' Then we went and got lost in the maze-like canals and alleys and enjoyed discovering the lesser-traveled Venice. We have tons of amazing photos and none feature billboards.

Just don't go in July, 'cause it's hot as hell.
posted by NationalKato at 12:44 PM on October 4, 2011


John Berendt's book about Venice, The City of Falling Angels, lays out the complicated civic life of the place. The book is about the investigation of the fire that destroyed the Fenice opera house. In short: Venetians don't care what you think.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:01 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


All of this really demonstrates the truth of Children of Men, when there is not future, why bother?

On that note I am totally all for all of the stolen loot going back to the places it came from.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:05 PM on October 4, 2011


I can understand the ambivalence the people of Venice must feel with the endless tourists. What good are they? Money? That money is what makes it impossible for ordinary people to live there.

So I can see the attraction in doing something for no other reason than to piss off the average tourist, or the renowned cultural experts who would prefer your city to be a museum. And if it brings in some cash to boot, so much the better. The buildings aren't going anywhere, and the residents will still be there in a few years when the curtains come down.
posted by alexei at 1:34 PM on October 4, 2011


I was literally in Venice last week, and what struck me was the UNESCO signs as you enter St. Mark's, listing about a dozen different things you couldn't do, to "preserve the sanctity of the Square", including sitting on unapproved surfaces. Then I turned the corner and saw the fuckin' Citroen billboard, bigger than Jesus. So much for sanctity, you whores.

If they need money to fix it up, why not just charge admittance? In general, I hate user fee focussed government, but it's not like tourism is an actual need. Hell, I'd argue that the restoration work is the actual important part. They could more than replace the ad money with a single euro entry fee - there were at least 2000 tourists in the square every time I visited, and it's shoulder season.

Of course, that would make St Mark's worth 2/3 as much as a public toilet.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:43 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Real" Venice fun fact: the current bell tower on St Mark's is only about 100 years old, built after the original completely collapsed into rubble.
posted by gubo at 1:45 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


What a shame. I'm hoping to take a vacation to Italy in a few years but will avoid Venice for sure. Nothing worse than ads blaring at you from all directions.


************************************************************************ This comment brought to you by Blue Bonnet.
Everything's Better With Blue Bonnet On it.

**********************************************************************
posted by perhapses at 1:46 PM on October 4, 2011


So much for sanctity, you whores.

My thoughts exactly. I was last in Venice in 2005 and while I don't have concrete plans, just seeing this makes me inclined to other cities. For my part, I always tried to contribute in the churches I visited and it is for me a kind of Holy ground. I'm embarrassed to think that a church would erect advertisements on its walls.
posted by dgran at 2:13 PM on October 4, 2011


If they need money to fix it up, why not just charge admittance?

When I was there last year, in November during a high water afternoon, the talk in the little stores that dot the way from the train station to San Marco, was about the hoped for proposal (and it came to nothing) to charge a tourist fee. The major reason given was that Venice is no longer capable to deal with the garbage generated by thousands of tourists per day. Another reason was that the sewer system (and there is one) was inadequate to sustain the number of tourists. The other hotly debated solution to the problem was to limit the number of tourists per day. Most of the merchants favored the tax. Most of my friends who still live there favor limiting the number of tourists. As for the high rent, it does not seem to affect my friends who are middle class or working class: after a few hundred years with limited new construction, most venetian families have adapted by subdividing family homes or living with mom (birth rate in Italy is low). My friends who have moved, have moved because jobs outside the tourism trade are not plentiful.
posted by francesca too at 4:51 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Which was payback for previous Italian raids of the Byzantine Empire.

Which is kinda like blaming America for Britain's looting of the Elgin Marbles.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:28 PM on October 4, 2011


Dear god. Venice was by far my favorite European city to visit, in great part due to the absence of this kind of shit. I'm really quite beside myself at the awfulness of this. Apart from an immediate boycott of any company who would dare advertise in such a way (the classy thing to do would be to give them the advertising dollars and publicly decline to put up the billboard) I'm wondering if there is some kind of petition/fund being organized, along the lines of "Hey Mayor, how much money will it take for you to remove all the signs?"

Shylock is getting his pound of flesh, and then some.
posted by ShutterBun at 7:31 PM on October 4, 2011


PeterMcDermott: "Meh. That was just payback for the plunder of all the property of Venetian merchants back in the 12th Century, and the subsequent massacre of Venetians living in the city.

Don't dish it out if you can't take it.
"

Leaving aside the He-hit-me-first-no-he-hit-me-first justifications for whether they were morally entitled to sack Constantinople, the Fourth Crusade was a pretty terrible idea for everyone involved. The only people who might have broken even were the Venetians, who expended all that effort to replace a declining empire with which they had alternately peaceful and violent relations with an ascendant empire with which they had alternately peaceful and violent relations. Oh, and as a bonus, they got to prop up the Latin Empire for its sad, short existence. I'm sure the thrill of killing people who might have been involved in hurting their fellow lagoon-dwellers twenty years prior was totally worth it, though.
posted by Copronymus at 9:15 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The story "Venice Drowned" by Kim Stanley Robinson feels creepily prescient now.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:42 PM on October 4, 2011


Actually, I just remembered that there is a new tourist tax as of August; a nightly room surcharge. On the order of one Euro per star per night (i.e. Higher in better quality hotels.) Maybe that will help.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:42 AM on October 5, 2011


Even soaked in constant rain, I loved Venice when I was there in '92. This makes me sad.

My first introduction to Piazza San Marco was the book The Secret of the Lion of Venice, by K. A. (Kitty) Leibovitch, which I read as a kid. It sounded so exotic and unlikely to have a tall, thick column with just a winged lion atop it that I couldn't really believe it...until I saw it in person a dozen years later. Now if I visited I fear I would look right past the statue because of all the awful, distracting ads.

Oh, Italy -- between Berlusconi and this, it makes me think you won't save anything that's sinking into the muck before it's too late!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:51 AM on October 5, 2011


I was in Venice for my first time, this April. As far as I'm concerned, this is so much bullshit. The city is beautiful. Piazza San Marco is of historical importance, and matters very little in the over-all experience of the city. Nevertheless, when I was there, while the ads covering the scaffolding were disappointing, they were covering scaffolding. At least there's effort being made to save the important stuff behind the ads.
posted by Goofyy at 3:13 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older Margaret "Peg" Hughes took to the stage in 1660, a...  |  The Motif of Harmful Sensation... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments