Death in Venice – but this time it's Bogarde's beach

Scene immortalised by Dirk Bogarde film will be lost under plans to develop sand dunes. Michael Day reports on the backlash

It is one of the most poignant moments in modern film: Dirk Bogarde as the ageing and ailing German composer Gustav von Aschenbach watches transfixed from his deck chair as Tadzio, the blond youth he is obsessed with, wades slowly out into the sun-drenched Venetian lagoon. The Mahler score soars heavenward, the youth points enigmatically out to sea – and the composer lurches forward in his chair, dead from a heart attack.

The scene was shot at Venice Lido's Alberoni Baths, one of the resort's oldest bathing establishments, where little has changed in a century. As the credits rolled and the camera panned, von Aschenbach's limp corpse was lugged away past the scenic lines of bathing huts.

The film Death in Venice, based on the Thomas Mann novella of the same name, made the area a favourite with cinema buffs and tourists. But now the death knell is sounding for that beloved cinematic backdrop.

The city council is planning to develop a sand dune – 80 metres long and 50 metres deep – that would result in the destruction of the decades-old beach huts, as well as the characteristic Bagni Alberoni bathing establishment, which has stood on the site since the early 1900s. The plans would change the beach beyond recognition, says the Alberoni Committee, which is campaigning against the development and has collected more than 2,000 signatures on its petition to save the landmark site.

Stefano Bartoli, the owner of the Bagni Alberoni bathing establishment, said: "If these plans go ahead, we will have to close, it's that simple. It won't be possible to stay open. And if we close lots of jobs will be lost and the local community will die – so too will a little piece of history."

Nobody at Venice council was available for comment. However, the Italian news agency Ansa quoted the council as saying that the area had been classified as a nature reserve and therefore needed protecting. As well as its intense light and fine sand, the Venice lagoon area is noted for its own sub-tropical microclimate with many rare species of plants and animals.

Members of the Alberoni Committee told The Independent, however, that the authorities had allowed the beach to fall into such a state of disrepair that such a justification was hard to believe. "They seem to come up with a different excuse every month," said one member Silvia Orio, who owns a hotel in the area. "To be honest, I'm not really sure why they want to close it."

The campaigners are determined to stop the construction of the dunes. "This is a special place and it's been a place for intellectuals," said Ms Orio. "It would be a tragedy if it went and we're not going to give up the fight."

This week the Committee took out a out a full-page advertisement in the local Corriere del Veneto newspaper in an effort to warn the public of the council's plans and to raise support for the campaign.

The Alberoni Committee website, www.savevenetianbeach.com, has been funded by local residents and businesses, and the hope is that many more residents will sign the petition.

Ms Orio stressed that the next few weeks of the campaign would critical. "We expect the council to make a decision by the end of September, so what we do now will be vital," she said.

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