“A historic day!”: Venice conquered the flood on Saturday, thanks to the deployment, for the first time, of artificial dikes erected against the rising waters which, traditionally, submerge the famous Piazza San Marco, jewel of the Serenissima.
While they had put on waxed rubber boots, locals and tourists who came to observe the “acqua alta”, a particularly high tide flooding dozens of shops and hotels as well as the famous Saint Mark’s Square, were at their expense, AFP journalists observed on the spot.
“It’s much better for Venice. Today the stores remained open while yesterday many were closed. And we do not need to use the wooden bridges ”installed on the square, in front of the basilica, confided to AFP Eric Faure, a tourist from Perpignan (southwest of France).
The rise in water levels, which was expected to peak at midday, did not take place, held back by a new system of mobile dikes. Last year, on November 12, the rating reached 1.87 m above sea level, one of the highest measurements on record, and devastated the city.
Dozens of churches in the city, listed as a World Heritage Site, had been damaged.
The Patriarch of Venice, Francesco Moraglia, hailed “a day of hope”, while the president of the Association of Merchants in St. Mark’s Square spoke of “a historic day”.
“It’s just a small puddle,” said Claudio Vernier. “Normally, we should have had water up to our knees”.
Relief, therefore, for the Venetian craftsmen who have suffered enormously from the containment and the shutdown of cruise passenger activity due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Yesterday the tide was much lower and the water was higher in the square. Today, the square is completely empty of water. It’s incredible ”, rejoiced Giovanni Fabris, a clothing merchant in Saint Mark’s Square.
Venice has only 50,000 inhabitants in its heart, but receives 36 million visitors each year, 90% of whom are foreigners who often disembark from huge ships, a windfall for some, a plague and an unacceptable source of pollution for others.
The MOSE project (Moïse in Italian, Experimental electromagnetic module), inaugurated this year, is a complex engineering system allowing “waterproofing” of the Serenissima thanks to 78 dikes placed at the entry points of the lagoon.
It is a network of boxes filled with water, supposed to be able to rise in 30 minutes, to create a barrier capable of withstanding a rise in water three meters above normal.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte attended, in July, the official test of this anti-flood barrier, the controversial construction of which was interminable and costly.
Developed in the 1980s, the MOSE site started in 2003 and should have been ready four years ago. But it has fallen behind due to corruption scandals and overcosts, for a bill estimated at more than seven billion euros.
“Hopefully Moses continues to function well. This is how we can save Venice, ”said Nicoletta De Rossi, a 56-year-old Venetian on Saturday.