Venetian islands revamp traditions
VENICE, Italy — The Venetian island of Burano’s charms are rooted in its fishing legacy: the colorful fishermen’s cottages, the traditional butter cookies that kept fishermen going at sea and the delicate lace hand-stitched by their women.
But as the island’s population dwindles, like that of Venice itself a 40-minute boat ride away, so do the numbers of skilled artisans who keep the traditions and economy alive.
To counter the trend, Venezia Nativa, an association of entrepreneurs on Burano and two neighboring islands, is trying to breathe fresh life into old trades to attract new residents and persuade young islanders to stay.
Domenico Rossi, 49, is a crab fisherman, like his ancestors back to the glory days of the Venetian Republic.
But that way of life is dying. When Rossi was a boy, about 100 fishermen plied the Northern Venetian lagoon for soft-shell crabs. Now, he’s the youngest of the 20 still operating, and he figures in a couple of decades there will be none left.
“Once we disappear, Venice disappears,’’ the Burano native said.
Still, he has forbidden his 18-year-old son to take up the trade, seeking to protect him from long hours, uncertain profits and the threat of tightening fishing regulations.
His son is training to be a chef. And Rossi is transforming his own work into a tourist attraction, bringing small groups on boat tours in the off-season.
Venice has long sounded the alarm about being reduced to a living museum, as tourism mushrooms and population levels shrink, threatening the city’s viability. Permanent residents in the historic center — which includes St. Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal — have sunk to 53,000, down by a third in one generation.
About 1,000 people leave each year for cheaper, easier living in the city’s mainland districts. With them, the social fabric of the city wears, the number of neighborhood stores offering staples dwindles — as do public services.
On Burano and its two neighboring islands of Mazzorbo and Torcello, the impact of depopulation is even more evident. Residents currently number 2,700, dropping by 60 a year.
Just 40 years ago, there were two elementary schools with about 120 children in each grade. Each now has no more than a dozen.
About 30 island business owners are trying to secure the Northern lagoon’s future by relaunching local trades and encouraging sustainable tourism.
In this image taken on Thursday, people walk at the Burano island, Italy.