UK / ITALY – Research work: “New Sacred Places Or Museum Spaces? Interpretation And Representation Of Religious Heritage In The Churches Of Venice”

By Venelina Saunders

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In Venice, religious sites like Saint Mark’s Basilica and Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari have become landmarks. Due to the increasing numbers of visitors, these and other Venetian churches are facing the problem of keeping not only their historical, aesthetic, and cultural significance, but also their spiritual and sacred values. Consequently, some of the churches have employed interpretation and representation methods to satisfy the demand of mass tourism: admission fees, interpretive leaflets, spotlights to highlight artworks, audio tours and other didactic materials have all been developed.

The paper investigates the role of current on-site interpretations of the churches of Venice and relates them to the visitors’ perceptions and experiences. It offers insights into the tangible, as well as elusive, spiritual values of Venetian churches. The study relies on qualitative methods such as case studies, visitors’ surveys, site observations, and interviews. The findings are analyzed through the framework of the constructivist-learning theory, which affirms that people create their own meanings based on previous knowledge. The study demonstrates that the interpretive methods on-sites, present the visitors with experiences not usually associated with religious sites. The churches are experienced as tourist attractions rather then sacred sites – a perception that clearly interferes with their original purpose.

The role of heritage interpretation is to provide visitors with a positive experience and understanding of the original function and value of the place. In the contrary, inappropriate use of interpretation could lead to dissatisfaction, and unfulfilled visitor expectations. Empirical research is essential in order to develop appropriate planning and effective approach towards the implementation of interpretation and representation methods in religious sites. To that end, my project identifies key elements and challenges to enriching the experiences of the visitors while reinforcing their understanding of the sacred purpose of each religious space.

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