A city built on logs in unstable mud banks in an area of the Adriatic sea with tides and winter storms. The odds have been bad for Venice from the very beginning. In addition to Venice's foundations slowly sinking, the city has been very vulnerable to catastrophic flooding and the effects of mass tourism for the past 20 years. The unique city is simply not doing well.
Venice was one such place that I never really felt any longing for. My preconceived notions were big and I expected a circus of tourists herded around like a flock of penguins, rude waiters and overpriced everything. But Venice turned out to be the highlight of our road trip in Italy. I was completely immersed in the charm of Venice and despite it being the Easter weekend, we largely managed to find peace in the lively atmosphere of the city.
We stayed in an old palace in the Dorsoduro district, an area that most tourists have yet to find. Our balcony overhung the canal and I spent many hours sitting there with a glass of bubbly, watching the everyday life of Venice. Like the garbage boat that came by once a day to pick up garbage or the vegetable boat that delivered trays of vegetables to the restaurant next door. Perhaps it is because I got to see Venice at its best that it now hurts so much to read about the last week's events in the city. If I was drowned by the charm of Venice during my visit, Venice is now drowned by the sea.
Venice began to flourish already in the ninth century, after being under the power of the Byzantine Empire for many years. The location out in the lagoon was perfect both for trade and as protection against enemies. In the late Middle Ages, Venice had Europe's largest port and trade with the outside world flourished through the city's talented shipbuilders. The money flowed in and several of the unique buildings that we visit today in Venice were already built in the 800th century, such as St. Mark's Church. Despite its location in the middle of the lagoon, there were very few floods. But last week the sea rose. All of Venice held its breath.
The worst flood ever (as documented) occurred in 1966. When the moon and high tide coincide with rain and strong winds, the water can rise rapidly. The phenomenon even has its own name – high water. In 1966, water levels were 1,94 cm above normal. Basically the whole city was under water, including the crypt of St. Mark's Church. Last week (November 2019) levels rose to 1,87 centimeters above normal. The second worst flood on record. A flood like this also flooded St. Mark's Church.
50 years ago, more than 150.000 inhabitants lived in Venice. Today, just under 50.000 live here. But if the population decreases, the number of tourists increases. In 2017, Venice received 25 million (!) visitors and the numbers are rising. But no one escaped the water flows last week. The luxury hotel's marble floors were flooded and the power cut. Images of a water bus (vaporetto) washed up on the pier and a man swimming in St. Mark's Square were spread on social media. But the tourists continued to shop, despite having to wade in water. And the disposable plastic boots that the tourists bought then floated around in the canals.
But is there nothing to be done to prevent the floods? Already after the great flood in 1966, they began to develop a plan to stop the floods. The plan became the "MOSE" project - an extremely delayed and extremely expensive project with inflatable gates on the seabed to stop sea levels from rising in the city. The project should have been completed as early as 2012, but has been marred by scandals. Venice had not needed these scandals, Venice had needed the gates of protection.
Can you go to Venice despite all the floods?
The damage is extensive after the floods. Venice needs tourists now more than ever, but they need the right kind of tourists. Venice doesn't need any more day trippers, cruise tourists or tourists buying trinkets from street vendors and littering. Venice needs tourists who come to the city and stay for a few days. Tourists shopping for food in local shops and eating at local restaurants off the beaten track. Which helps the few Venice residents left to make money through the disaster, so they can rebuild their damaged businesses.
Do you want to read more about Venice, the floods and tourism?
- CNN - Worst floods in 50 years bring Venice to its knees”
- SVT – That's why Venice was built on water, and that's why the city continues to flood
- CNN - In photos: High tide floods Venice
- Scientific American – Venice has it's worst flood in 53 years
Do you want to read more from our trip to Italy? Look into my Italy page.
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