Should Venice be closed off to visitors? Some activists are urging for a radical solution to the problem of tourism overcrowding, yet local authorities and other residents are strongly opposed to the idea.

The debate has been ongoing for years, but gained new prominence after excessive traffic on the Grand Canal -- which has risen exponentially along with tourist numbers -- was blamed for a fatal crash last month between a gondola and a ferry that left a German man dead.

Italia Nostra, a heritage group, says that the city now has 30 million visitors per year, whereas a 1988 academic study concluded that 7.5 million was the sustainable level, with 12 million the absolute maximum Venice could bear.

“The alleyways are full, nobody can get on the water buses, it is becoming a torture even for tourists,” said Paolo Lanapoppi, an Italia Nostra campaigner.

“In order to manage the tourism, someone at high level has to admit in public that soon the numbers will need to be limited,” Anne Somers Cocks, former head of Venice in Peril, a British charity, wrote in the New York Review of Books in June.

She suggested forcing visitors to pay 30 euros (40 dollars) towards the city’s upkeep, and added that they “will have to book in advance, and if Venice is full on one day, they will have to come on another.” Mayor Giorgio Orsoni will hear none of it.

“Venice is not and never will be, for as far as I will be able to muster authority, anything approaching a museum,” Orsoni wrote back this month to Somers Cocks.

In a separate interview with dpa, the mayor said he was working to make the pressure from tourists more manageable by encouraging them to spread out around the entire city, “so that they don’t all cram in St Mark’s Square.” In an apparent reference to Somers Cocks, he heaped scorn on “so-called friends of Venice” who, he claimed, “do not really love” the place, viewing it only as “a very decadent city, in the style of Thomas Mann.” Long-debated plans to modernize the city include the construction of an underwater underground system, as well as the development of a container hub connected to the port, which is already a major cruise ship terminal

Venice “needs to become once again a hub of activity, without which its beauty will inevitably fade: the magic of place can flourish around real life, not in its stead,” Orsoni wrote in another passage of his reply to Somers Cocks, also published on the New York Review of Books.

Matteo Secchi, a hotel owner who belongs to the protest group, also opposed the idea of kicking tourists out. He proposes an extra tax on all purchases made in the city. “Sure, restricted access would save Venice from the invasion,” he said. “But we would turn it into Veniceland, a sort of Disneyland where you need a ticket to get in. And how can you stop people when the city is full? With turnstiles at entry points to the city?”DPA