Besides Rome, Venice has to be one of my favorite cities in Italy. Before I went for the first time, some fellow travelers brushed Venice off as being “cheesy” and “overrated.” After spending a few days there, however, I had to disagree. I’ve been about three times now, and each time the city seemed even more beautiful and more intriguing.
With its winding canals, ornate gondolas, and gilded palazzi, Venice is truly unlike any other city in the world. Its history alone is fascinating. The city was built on several islands of a lagoon, which were then linked by bridges that you can still cross over today. Venice was the cultural, artistic, and political powerhouse of its time, serving as the hometown of both the great explorer Marco Polo and the infamous womanizer Casanova (born in Venice in 1725). The city withstood plagues, became part of the Hapsburg Empire after being defeated by Napoleon in 1797, was spared during World War II on account of its beauty, and faced rising water levels and flooding as the city’s marble foundations sank further into the marsh.
Speaking of sinking, one must only look at the water lines on Venetian stoops to see the dramatic evidence of rising water levels. Steps that were several feet above the water centuries ago are now submerged. According to National Geographic, Venice dropped about five inches between 1950 and 1970, and while the city now sinks at a rate of less than two inches every 100 years, the surrounding Adriatic Sea continues to swell and causes more threats of submersion.
Under a new plan to save Venice, Italian hydrologists would inject billions of gallons of seawater to try and “inflate” porous sediments under the city. Hopefully, this would cause Venice to rise by as much as a foot and would create a more stable foundation for existing buildings. The trick is that Venice has a layer of clay under it, and therefore the injected seawater would spread out underneath the clay and cause a lateral elevation.
The method of “subsurface fluid injection” has apparently been used to California, Canada, and other places to lift up sagging land, and experts are optimistic that this experiment might dramatically help the city. According to National Geographic, tourists don’t really mind the flooding in places like Piazza di San Marco (although I’ve been there when it has flooded, and it was scary to see how quickly the piazza was submerged), and Venetians are used to the acqua alta (high water), but the concern is that over time the flooding would become more catastrophic.
Venice is a truly remarkable city, and although its mask is a bit dulled from time and wear, you can still see the glimmer of gold in its countenance. It will be interesting to see if the fluid injection experiment goes forward, and whether or not progress is made. Either way, I don’t think that anyone wants to see such a beautiful city sink past the point of no return.
Chatting with a local shopkeeper in one of Venice’s many beautiful shops