A Fil Bleu from Venice to Nice: Ocean Literacy World Conference Opening Speech


Jack Coulton

11 Jun 2024

A transcript of the opening speech read by Sara Lazzaro at the Ocean Literacy World Conference in Venice on 7 June, 2024:

We gather here today in the perfect place: a city surrounded not by walls, but by water. 

Few cities have a story so intricately tied to the sea as the Serenissima. Cradled by the tidal whispers of the Adriatic, Venice was founded not through the domination of nature, but through a sophisticated dialogue… an aquatic symbiosis. 

The first Venetians were refugees fleeing invasion, driven quite literally into the sea. Yet they did not drown: here, in the protective embrace of the lagoon, they built a community as vibrant as it is unique. 

This aquatic entanglement required a new wisdom—to read the tides like texts, and sculpt a city around maritime rhythms. A vascular network of navigational channels, called rii, pulsates with the lifeblood of an urban form that dares to float. 

As a city of more than a hundred artificial islands, Venice is also, naturally, a city of bridges. Besides the physical bridges you’ve crossed to get here today, there are historic, intercultural and intercontinental bridges, connections which stretch back through the centuries. 

Marco Polo, Venice’s most famous son, did not venture alone along the Silk Road, but he returned from his journey bearing tales woven from the fabric of far-away lands. His odyssey served as an inspiration to generations of intrepid travelers, and reshaped our understanding of the world’s vast expanse.  

This new Age of Discovery opened up the ocean, and marked the beginning of a long twilight for the Most Serene Republic. The Mediterranean was no longer “the middle of the Earth”. Yet crafts and culture continued to flourish. Venice became a beacon of intercultural dialogue whose light shines with the splendor of a vivid sunset. It soon became the publishing capital of the world, a sanctuary where knowledge flowed free from the chains of censorship. This is where the first complete copies of the Talmud and the Qur’an were made. 

This is just one example of how the liberal and meritocratic Venetian merchant class stood against elitism and aristocracy. While elsewhere privilege was inherited, respect in Venice was earned through labor, intellect, and commercial prowess. Interaction with the broader world is to be celebrated, with trade and mutual respect as twin propellers of the city’s prosperity and influence. 

Throughout history, Venice’s maritime talents have been intertwined with its textile mastery. From its trading privileges in the days of the Byzantine Empire, Venice has been a hub for the most luxurious threads. The arrival of silk weaving from Asia didn’t just revolutionize the world’s wardrobes, it left a lasting imprint on the local culture. Indeed, the elegance and the opulence of the fabrics helped shape the elaborate costumes of the world’s oldest fancy dress party: the Carnival of Venice. 

Here, at the crossroads between East and West, artisans shaped new styles and methods that influenced the development of fashion itself. Venetian textiles, characterized by their vibrant colors, intricate motifs, and exquisite craftsmanship, are another cultural bridge, a tableau of artistic exchange, and an engine of innovation. 

When you visit Venice today you may feel the sensation of touching the past, but our gathering here is a reminder that the city was, and still is, ahead of its time. 

The concept of Ocean Literacy is a young one. We are only just beginning our journey. But here we are, surrounded by liquid streets that are a living testament to our profound and perpetual bond with the water: the perfect platform to launch Ocean Literacy into the global conversation.  

Just as the Venetians of old knew so well, our impact will come from the strength of our collaborations and the sincerity of our knowledge sharing. So in the best Venetian tradition, let us put our minds together for something that is not just beautiful, but which enriches us all. 

The speech was written by Jack Coulton, Communication Focal Point for the Ocean Literacy initiatives of UNESCO-IOC. The full speech may be watched at the UNESCO Venice Office YouTube channel, from minute 23.15.