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Venice Hit by Third High Tide in 1 Week. Can the City Be Saved?

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Authorities closed St. Mark’s Square completely on Sunday, November 17, after a third high tide hit Venice in one week. However, on Monday, the floods appear to be subsiding.

Photo by Giuseppe Guarneri / Shutterstock

Authorities closed St. Mark’s Square completely on Sunday, November 17, after a third high tide hit Venice in one week. However, on Monday, the floods appear to be subsiding.

Damage could run up to hundreds of millions of euros during these historic floods. Here’s why November 2019’s “acqua alta” is different from previous ones.

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As the crowds of summer vacationers trickle out of Venice each year, the acqua alta—literally “high water”—replaces them as fall turns to winter. Most years, this seasonal high tide overflows the Venetian Lagoon, flooding the Italian city’s streets and piazzas and forcing locals and tourists alike to don over-the-knee rubber boots.

But on the night of Tuesday, November 12, Venice experienced its highest tide since 1966 at 74 inches—or just over 6 feet—flooding historic sites and damaging boats throughout the city. And the acqua alta that began a week ago shows no signs of subsiding. On Sunday, November 17, the city was hit by a record-breaking third high tide in the same week, the Associated Press reports. Sunday’s peak tide reached nearly 5 feet around 1 p.m. before retreating to just over 3 feet in the evening. Damage could run up to hundreds of millions of euros.

A combination of heavy rains and a full moon, which naturally brings high tides, is the main cause of these historic floods. But Venice’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, is also blaming climate change and rising sea levels for the worsening situation as the floods arrive each year.

 

“Venice is on its knees,’’ Brugnaro said on Twitter, calling on Rome to declare a state of emergency. “St. Mark’s Basilica has suffered serious damage like the entire city and its islands.”

Just over three years ago in AFAR’s July/August 2016 issue, Angelica Marin wrote that “the city’s famous seasonal high tide has struck during only some winters, but depending on climate change, it could start to arrive annually and stay for half the year.” At the time, she wrote about the protective MOSE floodgate—an acronym that is also the Italian word for Moses—which still hasn’t come to fruition.

As sea levels rise and flooding gets worse each year, MOSE might be the city’s only chance to be saved. Once completed, the undersea barriers would limit the extent of flooding in Venice by physically blocking excessive water from entering the lagoon. But the project has been delayed by corruption scandals and cost issues and there is no launch date in site, according to the AP.

Brugnaro said on Twitter that the long-delayed flood barrier project must be finished soon. “We are not just talking about calculating the damages, but of the very future of the city,” Brugnaro told the AP.

The Grand Canal overflowed Venice near the Rialto Bridge on Sunday, November 17.
 

What is currently open and closed in Venice

Between Tuesday, November 12, and Sunday, November 17, three high tides over 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) hit Venice. Since the city began taking records in 1872, that level hasn’t been hit even twice in one year, let alone three times in one week, according to the AP. But the flood levels appear to be retreating as of Monday, November 18, as schools finally reopened.

As things return to normal, here’s what is open and what is closed to the public as of press time. 

St. Mark’s Basilica: Closed

As Mayor Brugnaro pointed out on Twitter, St. Mark’s Basilica suffered extensive damage from flooding and remains closed. Since it was built about 900 years ago, the church at the center of St. Mark’s Square has only flooded six times. Two of those instances happened in the past two years, the Washington Post reported. In addition to the crypt being entirely flooded, the BBC said that the city fears the basilica’s columns also experienced structural damage. It is unclear when it will reopen to tourist visits.

The Doge’s Palace: Open

The ducal palace off of St. Mark’s Square closed on Wednesday, November 13, and finally reopened to the public on Monday, November 18. According to the museum’s Twitter account, “The Museum’s works and collections are safe and have not been damaged.”

The Museums of Venice Twitter account also announced that other civic sites are now open, including the St. Mark’s Clock Tower, the Correr Museum of art and history, as well as the Murano Glass Museum and the Burano Lace Museum.

Ca’ Pesaro Modern Art Gallery: Closed

The Ca’ Pesaro gallery remains closed after a short circuit caused a fire.

La Fenice Theater: Closed

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Authorities took an extra precaution at La Fenice, shutting off its electricity as its control room was flooded. The opera house, which had to be completely rebuilt after arsonists burned it down in 1996, cancelled its concerts through Saturday, November 23, because of the floods.

This article originally appeared online on November 13, 2019; it was updated on November 18, 2019, to include current information.

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