When people think of Venice, Italy, they think of the canals and the boats. I think most of us think the city is pretty much streets of water, and buildings that somehow stand in the water…strong and immovable against the water. Venice is the center of the lagoon of Venice, which extends over a length of 25 miles around the city. While it seems like the city is covered in water, only 11% of the lagoon is permanently covered with water, while the rest of the lagoon is islands or mudflats and marshes (Laguna Morta). The water stays fresh because, seawater from the Adriatic flows into the lagoon through three large passages, Bocca di Lido, Bocca di Malamocco, and Bocca di Chioggia, twice daily. This process provides a natural water exchange. Still, 11% water can sure look like a lot, especially when every touristy picture we see involves the canals and gondolas. So, to think of a situation whereby a flood could become tragic in Venice, is a strange thought for anyone who doesn’t really know Venice…like me.
On December 1, 2008, Venice experienced the biggest flood in more than twenty years. The waters rose more than five feet above normal levels. As with any flood, many of Venice’s streets, including Saint Mark’s Square, were submerged. Venice has flooding for about two hundred days every year, and the Venetian authorities were working to complete an underwater dam by 2011. Unfortunately, that fact didn’t help the city in 2008. Even with unusually high tides because of the new moon, residents were not surprised to see the usual low-lying lanes under water. Nevertheless, this day was different. Pretty much the entire city was covered by the lagoon. People stayed inside to wait out the water, only going outside when they were sure the water was definitely going down. The townspeople went outside to take pictures and explore the current townscape…to see what was underwater now. They were quite surprised at the scene before them.
By mid-afternoon, the water had gone down to more normal levels, but all over the world, the papers made it seem like the whole city was sinking. The high tide would come again on December 2nd, but it was nothing like December 1st. Cleanup was still underway on December 2nd, of course, but most businesses were open again. I suppose that if your city spends it’s life in one stage of flood or another, this extra high tide was just something to be taken in stride. Yes, people were surprised at the higher than normal flood waters from the tide, but they weren’t panicked. It was just another day in the life of Venice.