On the 12th of November, Venice was once again inundated with acqua alta or high flood waters, an occurrence which has become more frequent in recent years. Between 1872 and 1950 the city recorded only one “exceptional” high tide (reaching 140 centimeters / 4 feet 7 inches) above sea level. However, since 1950 there have been 21 such events, 4 of which occurred in the week of November 11th alone, this month’s levels being the highest in 50 years.
Venice’s mayor, Luigi Bragnaro, declared a state of emergency, temporarily closing the Venice Biennale, Saint Mark’s Basilica, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and other cultural sites in the city. This year’s biennale was aptly themed “May You Live in Interesting Times” and officially closed on November 24th while the city was still struggling to manage through the flood waters.
A treasure trove of cultural heritage and artistic masterpieces, Venice has already jumped into rescue mode for works in danger. The mosaics in Saint Mark’s Cathedral and even some of Vivaldi’s original 18th-century scores are among works damaged in this year’s historic flooding.
At least half the city’s churches have suffered serious damage as well as museums and galleries including Ca’ Pesaro, the modern art gallery right on the Grand Canal. Even the ground floor of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia—which was modernized by architect Carlo Scarpa in the midcentury with built-in drains and cantilevered travertine steps allowing water to more easily drain—could not escape flood damage this time.
For a city already overwhelmed by tourists and cruise ships each year, and a shrinking local population due to rising living expenses, the flooding and damage add insult to injury. The struggle to preserve Venice and all that the city represents is real, and if catastrophic events such as this don’t instigate action (such as tourist restrictions and the long-promised but still incomplete barrier infrastructure), what will?