The capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region
A city built on 100 small islands in a marshy lagoon in the Adriatic Sea
At risk from the environment
Regarded as a cultural hub worldwide, Venice evokes a gorgeous cityscape, rich symphonies, and of course the romance inherent in a lazy gondola ride down the canals. It is the birthplace of cultural giants, such as Antonio Vivaldi, and plays host to over 20 million visitors annually, with more day-trippers than both overnight visitors and native Venetians combined.
Venice sprawls across 118 small islands, connected together by canals and bridges, which paints the alluring illusion that the city floats upon the Venetian Lagoon. Founded in the 5th century, Venice quickly rose as a maritime power due to its defensive advantage. Most buildings throughout the city are built upon Istrian limestone plates, resting atop closely spaced wooden piles.
Ever since the Carnival of Venice was revived in 1980, the city's claim to fame has been its propensity for all things cultural: theatre, cinema, music, and art. However, even before this, Venice enjoyed a bustling tourism trade, being considered an essential stop along the Grand Tour. Venice was, and remains, the "locus of decadent Italiante allure."
One of Venice's great nemeses is subsidence—the natural dissolution of the marshy islands that Venice was built upon. However, what should have been a slow, but steady descent was expedited by industry in the 20th century. By extracting groundwater from wells, the industrial complex at Marghera played a direct role in Venice's spiking subsidence. Venice's natural rate of 0.4mm subsidence a year in 1930, leapt to 12mm a year by the beginning of 1970.
While that danger has largely been curbed by precautionary measures put into place in 1970, Venice continues to sink ever closer to the waves she rests on. Recent analysis shows that Venice continues to subside at a rate of 1-2mm per annum, meaning that we've only delayed the inevitable.
WHY IS IT AT RISK?
Venice's fairy-tale charm is both its greatest appeal and its deadliest drawback—the city that "floats" atop the lagoon is actually sinking. Steady climate change coupled with Venice's slow submergence has resulted in increased flooding throughout the city.
As if subsistence were not enough, Venice also has to contend with the whims of Mother Nature. Rising sea levels, a direct result of global climate change, continue to threaten Venice's sanctity. The city is increasingly beset by "acqua alta," or extreme high tides, during which the water levels rise over 90mm higher than usual. Severe acqua alta events will even cover almost all of the city, necessitating evacuation of homes and businesses throughout Venice.
Flooding in Venice was once a relatively rare occurrence, but as time marches on it has become increasingly common. For example, at the turn of the 21st century, the iconic St. Mark's Square might flood once per year. Today, it floods as many as 200 times annually.
But Venice isn't going down without a fight. In 2003, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi began proposed the MOSE project (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico)—an ambitious proposal to buoy Venetian spirits and literally turn back the tide.
The proposed solution depends on 78 hollow pontoons affixed to the ocean floor across the lagoon's three entrances. When tides over 110 cm are predicted, the pontoons will inflate and block off incoming water from the Adriatic Sea.
The £5.4 billion MOSE project has thus far been delayed, but is expected to be operational in 2016. Hopefully this last ditch effort will spare Venice for the enjoyment of future generations.
- Donate to causes dedicated to saving Venice from its watery resting place, such as the UK-based Venice In Peril Fund, which raises money for restoration and conservation work in the city.
- Invest in businesses that donate money towards saving Venice, such as UK-based Pizza Express, which donates a percentage of every Pizza Veneziana sold to Venice In Peril, and has raised almost £2 million to date.
- Buy art to save Venice. All funds from the Real Venice exhibition go to Venice In Peril's efforts.
- Consider "detourism"—linger in the city, explore the back streets, experience Venice like a Venetian. Get away from the guided tours and get lost in Venice's hidden treasures.
- Spend money on local hotels and restaurants, instead of making Venice a day trip.
- Visit Venice during off-seasons. Venice in December is much quieter and romantic—at nights, you might feel like you have the whole city to yourself.
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- Moses project' to secure future of Venice - telegraph.co.uk
- Inside Venice's bid to hold back the tide - theguardian.com
- Venice in Peril - veniceinperil.org
- Greener. Healthier. Socially aware. - pizzaexpress.com
- Real Venice - realvenice.org
- Let's keep the hordes out of Venice - telegraph.co.uk