The damage done by commerce to the world’s historic places is fast outpacing the damage done by war.

An Italian court on Monday overturned a ban on 100,000-ton cruise liners sailing up Venice’s Giudecca canal to get a close-up view of St Mark’s Square. The decision defies belief. Not in modern times can money have so crushingly defeated art; never can commerce have so blatantly sought to strangle the goose that lays its golden egg.

Visitors to Venice have long been amazed, if not horrified, by the vast floating palaces, 15 storeys high and twice the length of St Mark’s, that regularly loom over the basilica and the Doge’s Palace, displacing thousands of tons of water to smash against the ancient piles and bricks. Following a rule last year that would have made the liners pass west of the Giudecca to disgorge tourists at Venice docks, shipping operators lobbied so that their customers could continue viewing the city from the comfort of their deck chairs. They claimed the facility was worth a million visitors and 5,000 jobs. To name a fewThe damage done by commerce to the world’s historic places is fast outpacing the damage done by war. Moscow’s exquisite steel-lattice Shukhov Tower, erected as a radio mast in 1922 and “Russia’s Eiffel Tower”, is about to be torn down so the site can be redeveloped. In China the old Silk Road quarter of Kashgar is at this moment being bulldozed in what is a world tragedy. At a time when chaos is threatening monuments in Syria, Libya and Iraq, it seems crazy to voluntarily destroy those that survive. Lest Britain lectures others, both the Tower of London and Parliament Square may be stripped of world heritage status because of the “plutoflats” that Boris Johnson is allowing to tower over them.Big tidesFor decades, groups such as Save Venice and Venice in Peril have campaigned for action as the tides grow worse each year and the damp seeps above the stone footings to decay the ancient brickwork above.

After 20 years of argument, a mobile barrage is being built to protect the city from tidal surges, but a 2010 Unesco report warned that the mean tide was already a foot above the 20th-century average.

If this goes on unchecked there will one day plainly be no Venice for the deck chairs to look at. Commercial interests now seem omnipotent, parroting the cry of the development lobby everywhere that they are synonymous with “jobs, growth and the future”. It is moot how many jobs would really suffer if cruise ships were kept at a distance from Venice, but in short-term economics any old statistic will do to scare a politician or a judge.

More In: Signpost | In School