GIANT cruise ships could be shut out of Venice amid fears that the waves they create are eroding the foundations of the lagoon city.
As the sight of gleaming white passenger ships dwarfing the palaces and churches of the World Heritage-listed city becomes ever more common, calls are growing for restrictions on where they dock.
The mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, is to meet the head of the city's port authority, Paolo Costa, tomorrow to discuss the problem.
"The problem of these juggernauts of the sea needs to be confronted," he told Milan's Corriere della Sera newspaper.
He said cruise ships could be transferred to Porto Marghera, on the mainland, to minimise the environmental and aesthetic impact on Venice.
The proposal has the backing of Italy's new Environment Minister Corrado Clini.
Environmentalists and heritage groups have long pointed out that as cruise ships plough through the shallow lagoon, their powerful wake and undertow damage the fragile canal banks, wooden piles and mud banks on which the city rests.
There has been a huge increase in the number of cruise ships visiting "La Serenissima", as Venice is known, from 200 in 2000 to 510 in 2007. Last year 1.6 million tourists arrived by cruise ship, a more than fourfold increase since 1997.
Venice's cruise ship terminal was the 10th busiest in Europe but is now the fourth.
The biggest ships can be about 300 metres and rise 16 decks,and can carry almost 4000 passengers.
Arrigo Cipriani, owner of the famed Harry's Bar on the Grand Canal, said he would like to see every cruise ship passenger charged €50 ($A65) to set foot in Venice.
"If these people are prepared to pay €1500 for a holiday, what's another €50 for a day trip to Venice?" he said.