Venice’s Struggle Against the Water
Slowly but surely, Venice is sinking. The city has battled the water ever since it was founded 1,600 years ago in a marshy lagoon. Now it’s working on a gigantic project to prevent the floods that threaten its future — but experts are divided over whether it will work.
It’s starting again. As usual, it begins on St. Mark’s Square and the cathedral courtyard, the lowest points of the city. Water bubbles up through the manhole covers, first slowly, then more steadily. Those with sensitive noses claim it stinks; others say it smells of the sea.
Some visitors find the sight a bit unsettling, but it doesn’t bother Venetians. That’s how things are here, they say. Whenever winter, a full moon and a southerly sirocco wind coincide, the water level rises. That’s perfectly normal, and happens a dozen times a year. But it’s happening increasingly often, and gradually even the stoical Venetians are starting to get concerned.
Water from the run-off drains has now washed over St. Mark’s Square. At the quayside, where firmly moored gondolas bob about, this water mixes with waves from the lagoon that lap up onto the square. The yardstick at the Punta della Salute, by the mouth of the Grand Canal, shows the water level at 80 centimeters (32 inches) above normal. But it hasn’t quite reached acqua alta, the high-water mark, yet.
That only begins at 110 centimeters above normal. About four times every winter, well before this happens, the sirens wail. Venetians living in endangered areas then attempt to make their front doors as watertight as possible using sheet metal. Municipal workers set up temporary raised walkways. Once the level reaches 120 centimeters above normal, a quarter of the city is under water. After five more centimeters, the boats stop running. Everything grinds to a halt. That’s acqua alta.