Hidden treasures

Acqua Alta: when a normal phenomenon becomes tragic

Did you know that...

Acqua Alta: when a normal phenomenon becomes tragic

Did you know that ‘Acqua Alta’ is an expression of Venetian dialect used by its inhabitants to describe the high tides that occur periodically in Venice? Over time this term became used in Veneto to refer to the exceptional tide levels that flooded, completely or partly, the city of Venice.

Acqua Alta, as we all know, is a natural phenomenon that has always existed and to which the Venetians have always willingly adapted, building palaces and strong foundations around the canals, equipping their shops and homes with water barriers and wearing wellies to walk around even when the streets are covered with water.

At their ‘normal’ levels, high tides can also be considered useful for maintaining the island’s ecosystem, as they ensure it is clean and they imrpove the soil of the surrounding lagoon. But over the years, the phenomenon of exceptional high tides has begun to appear with increasing frequency and worrying levels. But what is the cause that led Acqua Alta to become a danger for Venice and its lagoon?

The first causes date back to when the management of the city and the lagoon habitat was taken away from the city magistracies after the fall of the Serenissima Republic in 1797. But before this, and indeed throughout the whole era of the Republic, Venice was managed by administrative bodies which were led by Venetian citizens, who were able to preserve the fragile hydrological balance of the territory thanks to careful and respectful observation, experimenting with actions and interventions that were compatible with the delicate nature of the area, and also punishing any action that went against their jurisdiction.

Since the fall of the Republic up until today, invasive and disastrous actions have completely changed for the worse the natural coexistence between land and sea, an extremely delicate relationship in our lagoon. The deepening of the seabed, the entry of speed boats, the excavation of Canale dei Petroli are just some of the issues that brought ever greater quantities of water from the sea into the lagoon, leading to the first great disaster that will forever mark the history of our city: the ‘Acqua Granda’ on 4 November 1966, when the tide level reached 1 meter and 94 cm. A real tragedy. Thus, the government of that time decided to carry out the most ambitious and costly project to defend the entire lagoon area: the often cited MOSE (Electromechanical Experimental Model), 78 gigantic gates placed at the bottom of the three port mouths which, as the tide rises, should be lifted to defend Venice and the islands from the fury of the sea. But corruption and wasted funds means this project is yet to be executed. And in the meantime, what will happen to Venice?

A city and island with world-renowned artistic, historical and cultural heritage ever closer to its destruction and annihilation. An example? On the evening of November 12, 2019, Venice and its inhabitants found themselves fighting against the fury of the Adriatic Sea and a wind that blew at a hundred kilometers an hour, with flooding reaching a level of 1 meter and 87 cm. No one was expecting it. No one was prepared for it. Floodgates could protect up to 170 cm above sea level, but not more than. The damage was enormous: centuries-old walls and balustrades demolished, boats adrift or slammed violently along the banks, shop windows and hotels smashed... Lots of people lost many things in these waters. But the Venetian islands are strong and their inhabitants even more so. And as the Venetian saying goes: ‘Duri i banchi’ (‘stay strong!’) always!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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