Italy: The death of Venice? City’s battles with tourism and flooding reach crisis level
By Angela Giuffrida
It goes without saying, however, that Venice’s troubles are not limited to tourism. The city is also endangered by recurring acque alte, or high waters. On 29 October last year, three-quarters of the city was hit by the worst flooding in a decade. Rain poured for almost 24 hours, with strong winds raising the water to 156cm above the normal sea level – a record reached only five times in the history of the city. As tourists persevered with their holidays – wading through knee-deep water in wellies and venturing to deluged shops and restaurants – locals counted the cost of the damage.
For the second time since 2000, water filled St Mark’s Basilica, causing damage to the marble floors, bronze metal doors and mosaic floors of the 1,000-year-old church. A few days after, the cathedral’s administrators made the striking claim that the damage had caused the structure to age “20 years in one day”. Initial repairs are costing about €2.2m but Marco Piana, one of the administrators, said the major concern was the long-term impact of the damage.
Administrators said the damage would have been avoided if the multibillion-pound Mose project designed to prevent flooding in the Venice lagoon had been up and running. Work on the flood barrier began in 2003 but has been dogged by delays and a myriad of issues, including a corruption scandal that emerged in 2014 and saw former mayor Giorgio Orsoni accused of accepting bribes in return for awarding contracts.
The latest estimated completion date is 2022, and the administrators have urged the national government to finish it as soon as possible.
“Around 96% is done, so there is just a small bit left to do, but they keep pushing the date back … all of this depends on the funding coming from the government,” said Piana.