October 13, 2013

Venice, The Watery City

     Venice is built on a lagoon, its homes whose weight is borne under the water by heavy beams arranged in circular patterns, appear to float on its surface. Its wealth and power extended for almost one thousand years because of its facility in using the water to enrich the republic and its citizens. Now they say Venice is sinking. They talk of a great underwater system, a hydraulic water gate, that will keep the water from washing away the city; but, for many years now, all they have done is talk.
Venice has always been a victim of floods, but now they occur regularly. Acqua alta literally means “high water,” but in Venice it means much more.
A Hotel's "Water" Gate
Water Crawling into a Palazzo

It means a lagoon that laps over the edges of the waterside streets, splashing on passersby.  

It means water that creeps up through the drains in St. Mark’s Square.

It means streets that become inundated up to most men’s calves. It means temporary walkways, long rows of low buffet-like tables, placed end-on-end, that became the only dry means of walking from one location in the city to another. It means that the city must be navigated, as if each citizen becomes a tiny ship afloat in a maze of man-constructed canyons.

Barricaded Bank

Water Seeping into the Querini Stampalia Library

We have never been in Venice for acqua alta, always planning our visits so that they ended in mid-October, right before navigation skills are required. This time, however, water threatened us.

Our friend Andrea Casadio

Our friend Andrea Casadio, a historian from Ravenna, came to visit and told us, “You really should experience acqua alta.” We were dubious but right after he left, the water rose, and rose. The water fell from the sky with such force that I believed Andrea might have been a prophet who called up Neptune to his aid. Puddles became impossible to avoid.

Gary, Prepared for the Deluge
We bought boots as insurance and they were a bargain. For 10 euros each, we could carry the totem around in our back pack until the rain stopped its deluge, water receded, and all the tourists returned.

The gondolas that had been tucked away under their blue tarps as the lagoon churled and snorted, crawled out with their gondoliers attached, and started anew to entertain the tourists, taking them for a “stroll” in what was once as useful to the Venetian as a car has become to us today. We still have not experienced acqua alta, but perhaps there will be another time.

(Thank you to Gary who contributed many of these pictures.)

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