“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 rubber boots and oilskins, 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 St. Mark’s Square, were at their expense. , noted AFP journalists on the spot.
“It’s much better for Venice. Today the stores remained open while yesterday many were closed. And we don’t need to use the wooden bridges installed in the square, in front of the basilica, confided to AFP Eric Faure, a tourist from Perpignan (south-west 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 referred to it as “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 cessation of activity by cruise passengers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Yesterday the tide was much lower and the water was higher in the square. Today the place 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 every 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 caissons 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 whose controversial construction was interminable and expensive.
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 additional costs, 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.