Is Venice Really Sinking?

Italy, Tours & Attractions — By on November 14, 2008 at 11:21 am

Venice Sinking Amanda PressnerEarlier this month, my boyfriend Jeff and I were invited to join a group of journalists on a five day whirlwind tour of three Italian cities-Venice, Florence and Rome. I’ve been trying to stay close to home lately (writing the book has been a study in discipline for me, as there’s always something more distracting and immediate to attend to) but neither of us could pass up the chance to explore some of the world’s most culturally relevant sites. Plus, my friend Courtney told me that in Italy, they have a rule that you must eat gelato eat least once a day to stay fit and healthy. So, we both signed up for our absentee ballots, packed our bags and booked the tickets to the first city-Venice.

I’d been to the City of Bridges nine years ago with fellow LG Jen Baggett right after we graduated from Florida State, and predictably, we absolutely fell in love with the place. One of our favorite spots (and arguably, the most recognizable) was Piazza San Marco, or San Marco Square. The summer we were there, gathering places was absolutely packed with tourists, photographers and pigeons, the latter of which flew around artistically for photos before dropping back down to collect breadcrumbs.

Jen and I paid some ridiculous amount of lire (this was in the pre-Euro days) to sip cappuccinos along its perimeter and sample finger food from tiny bowls. Up until that summer, I’d sort of hated olives…squishy little black things that came from jars and ruined an otherwise perfectly good slice of pizza. That day, I tried a fresh, ripe, deliciously perfect green olive no doubt picked somewhere nearby and delivered, still warm, to our table. One bite, and I became a devotee.
San Marco squareDuring our stay in summer of 2000, the was warm, the skies azure and cloudless, and it was nearly impossible to imagine that that the rumors were true. Venice couldn’t be in any danger of sinking….could it?

Nine years later, I observed the answer to that with my own eyes-and feet. On Halloween morning, our group disembarked from a taxi boat and entered San Marco Square, only to find that it was completely flooded. The only way to move from one side to another was to walk across a serious of raised wooden walkways, or passarelle.

path snakes across the square and actually continues inside the Basilica…the water level has gotten so high that completely covers the intricate mosaic tile floors of the cathedral. As we walked through, I could see tiny little streams of bubbles rising from the ground. While there was so much beauty to look at all around me in the church, it was all I could do to avoid looking down and wondering what kind of damage all of this water is causing. Our guide told me that the flooding is worst from late October to April, when changes in the weather and tides bring even more water the Adriatic Sea into the Venetian lagoon.

Whether or not Venice is still sinking-or if its reached a critical point where the flooding won’t get any worse-is still being debated by engineers and city planners (PBS devoted a whole series to the topic). Most experts, however, generally agree that it’s still slowly going down. Several massive construction projects have been proposed to hold back the tide, and keep the rush of acqua alta (high water) from completely drowning the city.

In May 2003, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi approved the building of The Gates, a wall of hinged barriers at each of the three entrances to Venetian lagoon that would rise at the flick of a switch to block extreme high tides from entering. The should be finished in 2011.

Until then, tourists will just have to resign themselves to hopping across the passarelle or packing a pair of Wellingtons in their suitcase. Locals, as the have been for hundred of years, will simply seek out higher ground during the floods, and go about life as usual.

Piazza San Marco Venice
Piazza San Marco Venice

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  • Shannon says:

    Wow! I was there in the summer and it only flooded in the afternoon. I don’t think I realized just how high it flooded in the winter…holy cow!

  • Mike says:

    I love the design of the buildings over there.

  • Anjuli says:

    Your post brought back so many memories of my time in Venice- the teaming crowds in the middle of the square- the lovely feel of standing in the midst of history- not just history but beautiful, creative history– it was sad to see the pics of the flooding and the way the people had to walk single file across the walkways.

  • Sujan Patricia says:

    Ah, Venice! What a marvellous melange of art, culture, architecture, all reasons to visit the city, just once in your life, if only once. From its Medieval architectural wonders, its location, its Carnivale, it’s glorious foods.

    Sujan from Australia

  • Great information I have added to my facebook wall this, I will keep a eye on your other posts. Ohh what do you all think about the about brazil flood?