Photos of a scandal: the Basilica of San Marco is under water physically and financially

Columns corroded by salt, a project halted for four years while the salt corrodes the mosaics and eats away the walls of one of the most beautiful churches in the world. Meanwhile the Basilica’s finances are in equally serious condition.

By Vera Mantengoli and Enrico Tantucci

11 August 2021

[Ed. Note: I know this blog is supposed to be off for the month of August, but this story is just too much of an outrage to ignore. Of all the outrages on display in Venice this one makes the least sense. It makes no sense. It’s just an outrage.]

VENEZIA. The acqua alta season is just ahead, but all is silent about the project to secure the Basilica di San Marco. The unresolved dispute between businesses and Consorzio Venezia Nuova (the entity that is supposed to manage the work) is delaying the intervention to install glass barriers meant to prevent the acqua alta from entering the Basilica. The irony is that it was decided to entrust the work to CVN months ago in order to speed it up.

Meanwhile the enormous damage from the salt that is corroding the mosaics and eating away the walls – reaching up to four meters high – keeps getting worse. The procurators of the Basilica are desperate, because for three years they have been sounding the alarm in every way possible that there is no more time, embittered because this silence seems like mockery and stunned that a landmark like San Marco would be abandoned and left on its own, under the eyes of all.

While climate change scientists (IPCC) are raising an alarm about the future of the planet we might not realize what is happening with work on a problem that we have before our eyes every day.

“Since the acqua alta of 28 October 2018 we have continued to repeat that time has run out, yet they act as though the problem doesn’t exist”, explains procurator Alberto Tesserin, who does not understand the delay. “Every day is the right day to start the work because we cannot wait any longer. The project was approved by MIBAC a year ago, all of the institutions agree, but nonetheless nothing happens”.

During the ongoing pandemic institutions are working to restore normality, but the Basilica seems not to be of interest to anyone. The Church has not failed to reiterate that, just as the Patriarch did a few days ago. Still, nothing. Nobody has been contacted, not even with an update.

“We have all failed because in three years we have not been able to secure the most precious landmark in all of Venice” continues Tesserin. “What hurts the most is that they don’t realize the seriousness of the salt corrosion, but all you have to do is enter and look with your own eyes”.

In the past few days an unusual acqua alta arrived in August, amusing the tourists. But for those who have followed the progress of the tides over time it was not a positive sign, without even accounting for the fact that MoSE will not be finished this year either. The project to secure the Basilica would cost around four million Euro, so not an astronomical sum.

“After the exceptional acqua alta of 12 November 2019, the only institution that immediately helped us, giving us money, was the Region. But for the rest it seems that the Basilica is at the bottom of the list” concludes Tesserin. “And then they say that there will be celebrations for the legendary 1600 years of Venice when the very Basilica that represents the history of the city is abandoned with the greatest indifference”.

Tesserin is unable to understand the problem. The project itself, designed by engineer Daniele Rinaldo and by manager Mario Piana, could be realized quickly (in three months), but since the beginning progress has been troubled. MoSE Commissioner Elisabetta Spitz had it reviewed by the famous architect Stefano Boeri. The experts rejected his version and went back to the original project already approved by MIBAC. It seemed that everything was going smoothly, when litigation brought everything to a halt again.

The Procuratoria di San Marco is also in trouble financially

The Basilica of San Marco is also on the brink of economic collapse. While the Procuratoria’s 2020 budget closed with a limited liability of 220 thousand Euros, thanks mainly to Covid funds received from the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, this year the deficit trend has gone beyond 4 million Euros. Sounding the alarm once again about the gravity of the situation is the head procurator of San Marco, Carlo Alberto Tesserin.

“We are pleased with the commitment of institutions like the Superintendent of Public Works”, says Tesserin, “which for example released the bid for the construction of the glass shields that are needed to protect the Basilica from the acqua alte, finally starting the work process, we hope in time for autumn. But the situation for us financially is really critical. The costs of managing the Basilica come to around 8 million Euros per year. Last year, with Covid, we took in only 3.5 million from museum income, but we were able to limit the impact on our budget thanks to the supplements extended by the Ministry of Culture. This year we have already been informed that we will not have contributions, while around 700 thousand Euros are projected for 2022. We hope to take in more income this year, but with respect to the costs of maintenance and keeping the Basilica open, the deficit of at least 4 million Euro is a real disaster which we don’t know how to remedy. We also cannot rely on consistent private donations”.

To this we can add the problem of the increasingly large costs of the restoration work in San Marco, which is still regularly “assaulted” by salt water from the acqua alte, which now enters the church frequently, every time the level of the tide exceeds 80 centimeters.

“Restoration work is ongoing to stop the damage caused by the salt”, Tesserin explains again, “and the costs will exceed 20 million Euro, which we do not have, but 50 million are scheduled to arrive with interventions planned for the next few years. By now the Basilica’s economic problems are structural and it is a serious matter for us in particular that the financial support of the Ministry of Culture has failed, after our requests for intervention had been approved locally by the Venetian superintendent Emanuela Carpani. But when it arrived in Rome everything stopped, and we haven’t found out anything more. In these conditions it is difficult to go on. We had also planned a series of interventions to increase revenues from museum-type visits, but this has to start with the Basilica being sheltered from high waters, and with it the whole Marciana area, as many have demanded for decades without result”.


Source: La Nuova di Venezia e Mestre

2 thoughts on “Photos of a scandal: the Basilica of San Marco is under water physically and financially

  1. The two medieval Cathedrals of Dublin – St Patrick’s and Christ Church – are also burdened with huge maintenance costs and have charged a general entrance fee for many years. Worshippers can still attend daily Services for free. St Patrick’s needed a new roof (wind and rain is our problem) at a cost of many millions and made both a national and global appeal to the Irish diaspora for donations. San Marco may want to consider the same options. Would visitors object to paying €7.50 (the entrance fee here) to see the glorious Byzantine basilica? Perhaps, but it would also reduce the number of day trippers who I have observed many times are often quite indifferent to the astonishing beauty. I go into the Basilica multiple times on every visit and would happily pay an entrance fee each time knowing I was doing a small part in its preservation. I expect a lot of travellers feel that way. You just need to ask.


  2. Have just been informed by the brilliant Venice guide Luisella Romeo that admission is now being charged. (I was last there in Dec 2019 when it was closed due to the November flood.) Hopefully, when the pandemic ends and more visitors willing to pay arrive, it will result in a much-needed boost to the Basilica’s finances. 😉☘️ (Thanks for the update btw.)


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