Built on small islands and mud banks, Venice is slowly sinking. More than ever before, the pearl of the Adriatic is under threat. Having recently been hit by its most severe floods and with a state of emergency declared, what is being done to combat this?
Well over a thousand years ago the first wooden huts were built out on the middle of a lagoon off the coast of northern Italy. The archives tell us these were the homes of people fleeing barbarian invasions in the aftermath of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Later, with land in short supply, man-made areas were developed. But construction was far from easy; the bed of the lagoon consisted of sediment and mud, forming a foundation that was constantly moving. Yet Venetian architects managed to build the city’s palaces, towers, and cathedrals. Venice stands on a forest of wooden piles which anchor the buildings to the lagoon’s muddy bed. The buildings themselves are constructed in such a way that they can compensate for movement, even earth tremors, without suffering noticeable damage.
But the water the Venetians built their city on is becoming more and more of a threat. Industrialization has played its part in disturbing the natural balance of the lagoon: The sea bed has subsided and the effect of the tides has changed, resulting in a water level in the city’s canals that is 24 centimeters higher than when they were first built.
Added to that is the controversial presence in the lagoon of giant cruise ships: A source of income for the city, but also one that contributes to atmospheric pollution, as well as causing wake damage.