The Basilica of San Marco is Saved

This morning acqua alta baptized the defense system that was just completed, which held up perfectly. While the piazza flooded outside, mass was held inside the basilica. A work with maximum results and minimum impact.

By Giovanni Leone

6 November 2022

Autumn is acqua alta season, even though seasonal upheaval has not spared Venice from events in the summer that were absolutely unknown in the past.

The highest acqua alta ever was on 4 November 1966, at 194 centimeters. 12 November 2019 was the second highest peak in memory at 189 centimeters. This time the phenomenon only affected the lagoon city because of a sudden shift in wind direction with a serious storm that brought the city to its knees, an exceptional phenomenon not only for the peak but especially for the sequence of continued high tides in the following days. During 2019 the tide surpassed 110 cm 28 times, and the alarm sirens became the soundtrack of a city assaulted by the very Nature with which it has always had a close alliance in the construction of a complex habitat. It was a point of no return that led to the acceleration of the construction of MoSE, itself a controversial project for the concatenation of technical doubts, the unstoppable rise in costs, as well as the corruption and criminal vicissitudes.

Today the completion of the mobile dam system still seems to be like a horizon which gradually moves farther out as we get closer. However, despite the doubts about the increasing number of times in which it will be necessary to raise and the exorbitant operating costs, MoSE has given relief to the city, saving it from flooding in tides over 110 cm. Below this level a large part of the city is safe, with only partial flooding and damage that is overall contained. However, the heart of the city, which has been violated and humiliated, is not protected: in piazza San Marco the Basilica floods at just 65 centimeters. The system of pumps and valves installed under the direction of the proto of San Marco, arch. Mario Piana, brought that level up to 85 centimeters, which is still not enough given that MoSE is raised only at levels of 110 cm or higher.










Friday and Saturday were days with weather alerts, with storms and sustained winds that swept the city, agitating the lagoon waters. The tide once again stopped at the lagoon threshold, preventing it from flooding the city, meaning that the MoSE barriers were not raised. However, the sunny day with a clear sky crowned the dream of seeing the piazza flooded, but not the basilica of San Marco, which stayed dry. Satisfaction and pride was in the eyes of the proto of San Marco, and there was emotion in those of Venetians, moved by seeing the set of systematic interventions, finished just days ago, functioning. The previous interventions, gradually refined and now integrated with glass barriers equipped with foundations sunk into the ground, have proven their effectiveness.

After the shameful business and the time lost due to the delays caused by the hiring of outsiders who knew little about the city, the technical ability of the Venetian professional class and the skills developed with years of study, experimentation and experience have been successful. Those skills are an expression of a method rooted in an artisanal tradition which in Venice has had the characteristics of applied science since the times of the Serenissima. At that time the Arsenale was the forge of a rare level of technical knowledge, to the point of granting Venice primacy at sea; however, that knowledge was also applied in the construction techniques of extraordinary public buildings such as the Palazzo Ducale or the Palazzi della Ragione in Padua or Vicenza.

Politics should finally take note of the resources that the city has within it, valuing them as they deserve. There is a project that adopts a similar strategy of defending the city with islands, but it lies in a drawer. Commissioner Spitz and her architect do not want it, preferring to opt for pharaonic works of uncertain effectiveness. Venice is always ready to gather ideas, suggestions and insight, but has traditionally had no tolerance for attempts at authoritarianism and colonization, especially if of a cultural nature. A surge of pride by the Venetians is urgently needed to take back the reins of their own destiny and steer it away from the inexorable decline towards which it is rapidly moving.


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