Rarely has Venice looked so beautiful - bereft of visitors her true splendour is once again exposed.

But this is a beauty which will soon fade. The 30 million visitors who clog the canals and alleys are the lifeblood of this city.

They bring in billions and are the only real industry offering employment. Without them Venice is a much nicer place but it cannot sustain.

We arrived in an empty water bus, along the empty Grand Canal. No gondolas, no other boats and no sound save the tolling of a bell every now and again. Most of the shops were still shut and to those who had opened we were something of a rare breed.

“Where are you from, how did you get here?” one asked us before speaking the words he probably never thought he’d say and I certainly didn’t think I’d ever hear.

“We don’t have tourists here in Venice anymore. You’ve surprised us.”

Whoever thought that day would come. We’d clearly surprised the hotel too. Despite booking the day before it was all locked up. The arrival of visitors from beyond Italy’s shores now viewed as a booking error rather than a genuine booking.

The only language you hear is Italian - for now Venice is for the Venetians. The borders will open in the next few days but no one here is too sure whether anyone will take the chance to visit.

Venice's waterways have been left deserted due to the impact of coronavirus. Credit: AP

The campaigners who have fought to reduce the amount of tourism can hardly believe what they are seeing. Even they accept that this is not the Venice they sought.

It is a moment of history though, a moment few Venetians ever thought they would witness. It may yet prove to be the moment Venice reassesses its relationship with mass tourism.

This pandemic has provided a pause and a chance for Venice to reimagine its future - the quieter streets a reminder of a lost past.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know